Take a break from novel writing and venture into short fiction (Guest Post)

After spending November writing a novel (or at least 50,000 words of a novel) you may be feeling it’s time to have a bit of a break, I know that’s how I’m feeling. I’ve set my novel aside until January. But maybe you are still feeling the itch to write, you’re just looking for something not quite as huge as a novel. As you can tell by the anthologies in my side bar, I like to do short story writing. Short stories are a great way to get down those plot bunnies running rampant in your head that you know will never be developed into longer novel length stories (or maybe they will–my NaNo story this year started as a short story idea).

Today I have a very timely guest post from Nadia Jones on the benefits of short story writing.

Take a break from novel writing and venture into short fiction

After a few weeks and a few thousand words, you’re starting a new chapter for your novel. The blank page of the word document and the menacing blink of the cursor taunt you, daring you to succumb to writer’s block. Suddenly the prospect of writing a 50,000+ word novel looms above you like some insurmountable peak you’ve convinced yourself to climb. You are, in short, overwhelmed.

I have a suggestion for those weighed down by the anxieties of tackling a novel: try your hand at short fiction.

This isn’t meant to be a cautionary tale against writing a novel—far from it. But I think writers can learn invaluable skills in short fiction that transfer beautifully to writing a novel. And short fiction could work marvels on an overworked mind by offering the writer an opportunity to briefly tell another story. Think of short stories as a calculated respite from writing a novel, a chance to engage nagging thoughts and ideas that exist outside the narrative of your ongoing novel.

Develop a pithier writing style

Writers who strive to construct a taut and well-paced short story will find that the task improves their overall writing ability. If you take a look at short stories from well respected authors of the craft—Carver, Cheever, O’Conner, Hemingway, etc.—you’ll notice that their beauty comes from the depth of meaning and nuanced development that occurs over a few pages. Some of the greatest short stories have more to say than entire book series; they’re able to capture snapshots of huge emotions and themes, offering the reader a brief glimpse into another world.

Any writer could benefit from the discipline and condensed writing habits demanded by short fiction. Short stories teach a writer to spare everything but the essentials, to strip away padded paragraphs and wordy dialog that distracts from the central message of your story. In other words, writing and understanding the art of the short story makes you a better writer.

Flesh out ideas independent of your novel

Just because you’re writing a novel, it doesn’t mean that you stop thinking about other stories and characters. In fact, some writers will tell you that it’s quite difficult to resist writing every new idea or character into their novel. If you’re constantly indulging in these new ideas with your novel, you risk turning the work into a bloated and convoluted work.   Short stories provide a constructive outlet for these new ideas that pop into your head; you can flesh them out over the course of a few pages and determine if they’re worth pursuing in long form.

If you write out a setting or a character in short story format and find that there’s much more to them than you initially thought, you might have the makings of another novel on your hands. In fact, many well-received novels began as short stories whose characters kept the authors engaged page after page. Some authors cite short stories as an incubator for good ideas: they’ll write out a scene or two with a new character to see how they develop. If the story works, the author might transform it into a longer narrative.

Short stories as instant gratification

One of the most frustrating aspects of writing a novel is the seemingly endless process. Novelists will write for months and months without any sense of finality or closure to the ongoing narrative in their work. Completing a few short stories might grant novelists the sense of closure that they so want in their larger works. While a novel can takes months or years to complete, a particularly nimble writer could dash off a short story in a matter of hours. In this way short stories can offer a quick release to writers who feel like they can never complete a project. Completing a few well-constructed short stories might just be the validating experience that could impel a writer to continue that novel.

This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Take a break from novel writing and venture into short fiction (Guest Post)”

  1. I enjoyed this! Last year, I would’ve said, “No way, I’m a one-project-at-a-time kind of girl.” But since then, I’ve indulged in a couple of short stories while working on my novel. Being able to finish something in a shorter period of time is refreshing, and it’s great when I need to take a break from the novel to give it some space before revision.

    The other reasons listed for working on short stories are also important!


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