Should a novelist write short stories? If you want to perfect your craft and get published faster, you might want to give it a try! Short stories require the writer to understand plot, character arcs, theme, etc—all the building blocks of novel writing—but done in a condensed way. Writing short stories will make you a better novelist by providing concerted exercise. Though it’s certainly a skill of its own to tell a whole story in 3,000 words as opposed to 100,000, it’s quicker to get to The End.
Becoming a better storyteller takes work. You can take classes and read articles on writing, but nothing hones the skill like actually writing. The thing about practice is that you need to do more than get good at starting a story. You’ve got to learn how to finish it too. It’s common to come up with great openings and then get lost and give up the project. Novels are long and take a while to finish. It’s hard to keep track of where you were going or to come up with enough plot points to get to the end. Short stories are compact, which means you can go through the process of writing a beginning, middle, and end many times over. This practice will improve your storytelling skills, which will carry over into writing books.
Short stories require the writer to be efficient. There’s no time for (mostly) pointless scenes that “illustrate” character or for rambling dialogue or boring protagonists. In short stories, every word counts. That means your plotting and pacing has to be well modulated or readers (and editors) will grow quickly bored. Frankly, people get bored easily in novels too, so learning how to write only the juicy parts is important. Cutting the fat is a necessity in short stories that will serve you well in long forms as well.
Diving Into the Action
Another skill short story writing will improve is learning to open with a bang. There’s no time for lengthy exposition in a short story, so authors have to start at the most interesting point, in the middle of the action. Novelists need to have a hook in the first chapter that will compel the reader to turn four hundred pages to find out what happens at the end. That’s a pretty sharp hook. Learning how to craft that compelling opening is crucial. Here’s more on writing the hook: The First Chapter – 4 Tips for a Strong Start. If you only have 2,000 words, you’ll need to think hard about where and how to open. Doing that type of practice will only make you a better novelist.
Because you can write short stories faster than you can churn out entire novels, you’ll be able to amass more work quicker. Once you feel you have a well-crafted story, you can (usually) sell a short story to literary magazines without having an agent first. Going through the submission process is helpful, and with so few book publishing companies these days, you might have an easier time getting a “yes” from a literary magazine. Building a name and platform is always useful and will serve you when finding the right home for your novel.