I’ve always loved short stories. I discovered the short stories of Damon Runyon and Sherlock Holmes as a teenager. As a new mom, I could squeeze in a complete story before dropping off into an exhausted sleep.
Although most of my writing ideas take shape as novels, I’ve learned a very important technique from reading short stories: write tight.
New novelists have a tendency to take all the room of a book and fill it up with a lot of unnecessary words.
If I look at each chapter as a short story with a goal that must be reached within a specific word count, I trim the long passages of description, get rid of tiresome explanations, and punch up the dialogue.
Description, especially, is the area where I have benefited from reading short stories. No matter what I am describing, person, place, or thing, a succinct , vivid description in one sentence will stick with readers longer than a detailed paragraph. And within a novel, I can revisit those descriptions, dropping reminders of a person’s eye color or the night’s humidity, echoing the first description. If I rein in my word count, it give me more space for plot and characters development.
I also love how many short stories have a kicker ending, a twist that makes the whole experience wonderfully satisfying. I don’t know if you can do that kind of a twist in a novel but I’d like to figure out how.
When I am getting restless in my reading material and want to find a new author to rave about it, I read anthologies. I can sample many different writers in a short period of time, and if their short stories intrigue me, I can check out their novels. If a short story doesn’t hold me interest or lets me down, I have only wasted one night, instead of weeks with a novel that disappoints.
Another benefit is that short story writing allows aspiring novelists to get material published and before readers while waiting for their novel to be discovered. I thoroughly enjoyed writing a crime fiction short story because of the challenge it presented.
Which do you prefer to read, short stories or novels? Which do yo like to write?