Why Write Short Stories?

Saw a post by Sandra Wickham today, which you can read here.

In the post, she asks “Why Write Short Stories?”, citing three writers who tossed the question around at a panel at this last World Horror Convention. One writer says short stories help her build a platform – a name that people will recognize. One writer says short stories are a good way to learn to make deadlines. The third writer says short stories are a way to learn the skills you’ll need to write a longer novel.

For me, I write short stories because they’re easy.

Don’t get angry yet, and don’t misunderstand!

Let me qualify that statement by saying that no writing is ever easy. I will, however, cite another author from a different panel. It was Jo Walton, and I think it was at Con*Cept last year. On a panel on writing she said that she felt that every author had their natural length at which it was easier for them to work, be it short, novella, novel, or some other category. In practice, following other writers blogs, I can see this in effect. Brandon Sanderson writes thousand-page epics at a pace that makes me angry and has admitted that short stories have never really interested him. A local writer friend, Patricia Flewwelling, can write a novel in a few days. I’ve seen her write three novels in less than half a month. That’s just how those writers are. Nobody will say that writing a novel is easy, but for people like Brandon and Patricia, it’s seems that it’s easier than writing a short story. Not so for me.

Other writers, many other writers, spend a long time writing short stories before they feel comfortable tackling something of a greater length. I’m one of those. I have a really hard time seeing the whole novel as a single thing to be done, but I’ve also learned that I’m an outliner and that if I don’t see the whole novel’s shape in front of me then I can’t start on it. That’s the hardest part, not the putting down of word after word until the novel is done, but the thinking in terms of what needs to be done over the length of a whole novel. More than that, I really like writing short stories. I can see the beginning, I can see the end, I know what the story needs to do and then I get to see how deep I can take the reader into one character’s mind in a few thousand words. Very often when I have an idea I really want to write about, it will reveal itself as something that wants to be written as a short story. I have to stretch myself to think of any idea in terms of a novel because it doesn’t seem that my brain is wired that way.

So that’s pretty much it. When an idea strikes me, my instinct is to turn it into a short story, and that’s why I write short stories. With any luck, the writers on that panel are right and writing short stories will help me develop the skills, techniques, and platform that I can translate into success in other forms, but for now I’m happy writing short because it’s something I have a lot of fun doing.

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