Thursday, March 21, 2019

Why write short fiction if I'm a novelist?

There were no questions for O'Abby this week, so I thought instead I'd share an excerpt from a longer article I wrote a while back about why, as a novelist, writing short fiction can be valuable.

Next time we're without a question for O'Abby, I'll share the other part of this article, which is about why publishing that short fiction is equally valuable.

Hope you find it useful!

I wrote my first novel when I was still a teenager.  Barely a teenager.  I’d never written anything except stories for school before, and had no idea what I was doing.  And the finished novel was a complete mess.  So were the next two I attempted, and the fourth.

It wasn’t until I took a step away from pouring myself into novel after novel that I learned how to be a writer.  And what taught me those valuable lessons, was writing short stories.

Writing short fiction has many benefits for novelists, whether you’ve written your first novel or your fourteenth.

Writing short fiction helps you discover what you love writing.  There are thousands of publications out there asking for stories in every genre from crime thrillers to romance to fantasy and beyond.  Why not test your ability across a range of genres and styles?  Find out what you truly love to write before you invest the hundreds of hours required to write a novel.

While I figured this out for myself, I wrote sci-fi, fantasy, horror, erotica, historical fiction and more.  And throughout all this, I think I knew my heart was always going to be in YA, but I don’t feel at all like I wasted my time by writing more broadly.  In fact, I think writing all those different genres helped me find my own unique voice because I tried so hard to change it when writing stories that weren’t wholly my own.

Writing short fiction is also a valuable tool for honing your writing craft.  When a publication is asking for a story of only five, three or one thousand words, there’s no room for waffle.  The story itself needs to be focused and crafted so it has a beginning, a middle and an ending.  The writing must be powerful and evocative.  In short fiction, every word must have a purpose and pull its weight.  There is no room for flabby writing.   Nor is there room for a cast of thousands or myriad subplots.

I like to keep this in the back of my mind when I’m editing longer works.  Each chapter can be looked at like a short story, and each word in that chapter needs to push the story forward, not send it off into some dark alleyway with no exit in sight.

As a writer, I find writing short fiction is fantastic for keeping my writing tight. Novels give us the freedom to explore subplots and side characters and elaborate on worlds, but sometimes it’s valuable to go back to short fiction and try to get to the core of the story in as few words as possible.  Once you get back into the habit of making every word count, it will transfer into your novel writing and make your writing there stronger and tighter too.


  1. Nice post. I actually started out writing short stories, and then branched out to novels, first novels for children, and now cozy mysteries. Writing each is such a different experience. I like the space to explore a story in a novel, so I've had a hard time going back. When New ideas occur to me, they tend to be for something longer.

  2. I completely agree, and think this is a great way to train your mind to focus on making your words count.


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