"Tiny windows into other worlds" - Why we should write short stories.
As a child, I dreamt of writing a novel. A good hunk of a book which could also double up as a door stopper. The heavier the better. I viewed short fiction as something for writers with small goals, who were too nervous, lazy or scared to go the whole hog. A bit like tapping your foot with an odd click here and there instead of full-on jiving and swinging in the spotlight. But then, as the pile of unfinished novels wobbled over me and my overconfidence fizzled, I came to realise that short stories can be vital in a writer's literary journey and that there’s real beauty in a timely tap and click.
Short story collections are frequently overlooked in bestseller fiction lists -I also write my short stories in Welsh so good luck making your millions Miriam- and yet, I am by now a full-blown convert. Many of our most beloved authors started off writing short fiction, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf… The list goes on and on. Having spent the last few months crafting a short story collection, I’ve come up with a few reasons why that is and why short fiction can be the bees’ knees even for hardcore novelists:
1. You get a BUCKET LOAD OF EXPERIENCE. We all have so many stories to tell, who has time to devote 80k+ to each one? You complete the entire process of writing from plotting to final full stop within a short space of time, gaining a better understanding of what writing methods work best for you without waiting to turn grey.
2. You become an EDITING WIZARD. You’re forced to flex your writing muscles in a tight space and understand the impact of each word choice, loading your writing with intent and meaning, and learning to shave all the fluff. What’s left unsaid can speak just as loudly as what sits on the page and this is just as applicable in novel writing.
3. You get CREATIVE and EXPERIMENTAL. It’s an opportunity to get curious about structure and characterisation, and to play around with new voices, genres, themes, and ideas. You figure out which shoe fits best, or if you like wearing shoes at all.
Basically, short stories are a low risk, high reward way to hone your craft and better understand yourself as a writer.
Neil Gaiman hit the nail on the head:
“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
PLUS, and this reason is the closest to my heart, short stories are so much more than steppingstones to the worshipped land of the novel, they’re extraordinary destinations in themselves. They’re an entire art form challenging writers to summon up worlds and lives in a few pages, welcoming a reader’s interpretation and active participation in the storytelling. Characters are unravelled in a few interactions, and a single moment conjures up an entire arc in someone’s life. Isn’t that terrifyingly beautiful? They reveal and make us relish the small absurdities nestled away in our days. They can be exceptionally tricky to master but can result in the most memorable of stops as you jolt your reader off the train before they even have time to find their seat.
What do you think? Have I convinced you die-hard novelists at all?
As a quick challenge, putting all the listed reasons above to the test, I’m turning to the short story’s smaller and even punchier cousin, micro fiction. It’s a form I like to play with between writing projects to help reset my mind and which boasts the same value as short stories but in a more concentrated form.
I would love you to squeeze your skill, imagination, and creativity into 20 words.
Yes, up to 20 words on the theme of your choice. Taking inspiration from Hemingway, renowned for his cut-throat approach to editing, and who (supposedly) wrote this heart wrenching 6-word story:
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
Are you feeling up to the challenge?
Feel free to post yours in the comments section below. I’d also love to know if you have a favourite short story collection or writer of your own. Do you write short stories? Wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole? Share all below! You can find my comments there already.
Will I ever write a novel? I think so. But for now, I’m happily tapping and clicking away, learning to land on the right beat and enjoying the music.
If you’d like to read more about short stories, be sure to check out our latest article by Dan Brotzel.
You can also join in on some more Townhouse short story fun by joining the community’s short story group.
Can’t wait to read your comments!
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