Recently, I’ve decided to try the short story form again. In my early authorial career, when I still had barely any concept of what I was doing, I tried my hand at some short stories and only managed to publish one, Entomophobia: An Insect Incident originally with A Long Story Short. However, for some reason, I’m more adept at novels than short stories. This is largely due to the fact that my imagination tends to keep churning out ideas that quickly become impossible to contain in just a few thousand words.
However, short stories offer several advantages over the novel form. First, they have a faster turnaround. It doesn’t take as long to write them, edit them, and get them to a publisher. Also, the money comes in faster, even if it isn’t as much as one might make on a novel. There’s a reason why most career authors write novels. The pay tends to be better.
But the short story also offers a novelist the chance to practice new skills, especially of concentration, and I mean in most senses of the word. It also forces the novelist to practice really focusing on themes and ensuring that all elements of the story are necessary and meaningful.
In preparation for diving into the short story form, I’ve done some research about what separates the short story from the novel and what defines a good short story. Here’s what I found:
- Fear is the inhibitor of any story form. Both novelists who say they can’t write short stories and short fiction writers who balk at the idea of writing novels may be inhibited by fear. But one of the best ways to conquer that fear is to make yourself face it.
- In addition to the abbreviations the short story form requires compared to the novel--fewer characters, tighter and simpler plot, shorter word length, a single point-of-view character--the short story makes a statement, a clever, sometimes chilling, observation of humanity. Novels can do this as well, and often the best novels do, but the novel is more about the getting there. A novel is more about change. The short story casts a laser on that aspect of humanity, also known as theme.
- In a short story, everything must contain significance and meaning, and all that must support the overall theme or essence of that particular short story. There isn’t space or time for frivolous detail. Every sentence, every word, every detail must be there for a purpose.
Too often, people assume that the difference between a novel and a short story is length, but that idea misleads, in my opinion. Had I understood that length was not the most important difference in these forms when I first tried cutting my teeth on them, I might have had more than one published. Don’t make the same mistake.
Here are some helpful articles for further reading: