Do people even bother with short stories anymore these days? When we read the biographies, memoirs, or quotes of the famous authors today, the older generation who have established themselves on real masters of storytelling, there is something that they all share in common: they started with the short story. And not just one or two, but dozens of them. But the short story seems to be disappearing from the popular spotlight today. We rarely read them and it is even rarer for us to write them. Does the short story have any merit anymore?
I wanted to write this post because as I let my finished rough draft sit on a shelf so that I can read it with fresh eyes I found myself with some free writing time. I keep a prompt journal for all of my story ideas – one for novels and one for short stories. There are a trio of shorts that I’ve been wanting to write for some time: one dark, one tragic, and one hopeful to wash it all down. As I finish the second short, I’ve found something wonderful in writing these little stories (I’ve written about a dozen short stories in the past, but not for a while).
“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” – Neil Gaiman
Short stories are fun to read and you don’t need to invest hours of your life to reap the rewards of finishing them. Even more than that, I think that they’re fun to write and can teach a writer things that a novel can’t. They teach us to make our words count, to drain the excess. Writing a novel seems hard? Try packing all of that character development, tension, plot, and message into 3,000 words. They also teach us to write about things that matter. In a novel we can sometimes fall into the trap of putting in a scene because we like it. It doesn’t move the plot forward or develop any of our characters but it’s “just so cool and fun!” Try making that scene a short story. You’ll re-read it and tell yourself, “Wait… why did I read that again?”
“The short story is an imploding universe. It has all the boil of energy inside it. A novel has shrapnel going all over the place. You can have a mistake in a novel. A short story has to be perfect.” – Colum McCann
Now, a short story doesn’t teach us all of the things that we need to write a good book, but it teaches us a few of the the things that writing a book can’t. And that can make a good book great.
So if you have some time, take a stab at it. Keep a prompt journal and give it a go. Spend 30 minutes on it, or a whole day. It’s fun and it can give us some instant gratification – something writer’s sorely miss.
What do you think about short stories?
“A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” – Stephen King