Why I Write Short Stories

Someone recently asked me why I still write short stories, even though I’ve finished a couple of novel-length manuscripts.

Uh, because I like to write them?

What a mind-boggling question. I’m not really sure what kind of answer he was expecting.

But there does seem to be this cultural expectation that short stories are training wheels to novels. I suppose in some ways it can be true. It’s a lot easier to focus on learning one aspect of something in a shorter format, like how to structure a scene or how to get the character’s voice into dialogue or how to stick and ending. But that isn’t the only thing short stories are good for. And they are in a lot of ways completely different from writing novels. Not all of the skills seem to translate.

I like to write short fiction because I like to read it, and I like to read short fiction for a variety of reasons. To be dropped into a story when I don’t want to invest time, or when I want to read something in a different genre or from a new author and I don’t know if I’ll like it, or to read a story that just wouldn’t work in long form, like the last scene of a dying woman or the single event that shakes up the placid life of an elderly man. They tend to pack a lot more emotional punch for my investment.

I also like to write short-stories as test-chapters for longer works. They help my figure out if a setting calls to me, or if I want to keep exploring a certain character. Short stories are also where my discovery writer comes out to play, because I rarely outline them in advance. There is no point–I can hold everything in my head all at once, and I usually do the first draft in a single sitting. Sometimes I just want to sit down and free-write.

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