How Short Stories Can Support a Novel

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Love them or hate them, short stories have power. If you prefer writing novels, you may have even more reason to invest some time and tears in a handful of shorts. These truncated tales support larger stories and the writers who draft them from development through publication. What can a short story do for your novel?

Novel Seeds

A short story zeroes in on a very specific event, theme, or character. They snap shut and feel complete on their own. However, a short story isn’t that different from a long chapter or secondary plotline. Even if the story feels acceptably complete, you probably still have questions. How did the characters get to this point? What happens to these people afterwards? Is this threat or problem part of a larger dilemma? A short story may be a box that snaps shut, but it’s full of seeds, and plants can break through stone with enough time and attention.

Character Development

You know your primary character. Maybe you understand your villain and a side character or two. But they could all be better. Short stories empower writers who love characters. Each character can have a story all their own, told from their point of view. Maybe this story feeds into the larger novel. Maybe not. That matters a lot less than the insight gained by writing each “minor” player as the most important in their own world.

Platform and Potential

Published short stories demonstrate quality ideas and winning style. If you want to woo an agent, arrange a website serial, or rope any other publishing entity into your novel’s leap from manuscript to published work, short stories are your friend. Taking on a new writer, story, or series is always a risk. Published short stories offer a taste of your world, characters, and voice. They also prove readers find your potential novel attractive.

Even if your short stories have little or nothing to do with your novel (different world/characters/theme), they showcase your talent and voice. You’ve taken the first steps to prove yourself as a marketable creator, and some agents/publishers/editors will take that into consideration when reviewing your manuscript.


Self-publishing is hard. So is traditional publishing, but self-published and small press writers have to deal with the business side of selling stories much more often. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and short stories are a critical part of these author’s armories. Unpublished short stories make great Patreon fodder. Unique short stories may also draw readers to your website, where you provide links to the novel.

How do you feel about short stories? Do they come naturally, or do you struggle with the limited word count? They are their own art, it’s true, but many of the greatest writers – in history and today’s headlines – write short stories. They have different reasons, and their stories do very different things, but the same is true of novels. What kind of short story would best serve your novel? Share your thoughts with other writers below!

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