The Rollercoaster of Writing a Short Story

To the non-writing person, a short story probably sounds easy to write. It’s short, therefore you don’t need to write much.

It is because this type of writing is short that we love and fear it in equal measure.

Jump on the short story rollercoaster. It may be a short ride but it’s certainly bumpy.

Ooh, Not Much to Write!

I remember the first time I wrote a short story. It was an exciting proposition because I didn’t have to write much at all.

It certainly wasn’t a novel. It almost felt a bit naughty to take this option instead of the thousands of words and eons a novel requires.

Then I started writing.

Which brings me to…

Aargh, Not Much to Write!

I am a wordy madam. I love words. They are in my DNA. They sweat out of my pores and my gob.

My brain loves zapping them into my fingers, bashing them at the keys, and on to the page.

Short stories require an economy of words.

It has taken time to learn how to write the first draft of a short story without it being a saga.

Editing is a bitch at the best of times. Culling words from eleventy billion to a few thousand is excruciating.

It’s not killing my darlings, it’s severing limbs. Stephen King would approve of that too.

How Short Stories Are Received

Rollercoaster of Writing a Short Story - rejectionWhen I was a young ‘un, short stories weren’t popular. Sure, we had them in the classroom but most of the time we were encouraged to read novels.

In England, short stories haven’t been a wide-selling form for a while. That’s not to say we don’t read them but rather that the novel has always been a bigger seller. Maybe people want more book for their money. Quality over quantity for me though.

Short story collections appear to go in and out of fashion. Apparently they are having a resurrection now. How long that will last, nobody knows. Fashions in reading often change.

When I started writing I noticed how many fellow writers write short stories. It is the province of many a writing competition. We can submit a contained piece of our writing for judgement and not take up too much of the judge’s time.

Short stories are an art and a skill. They can be hard to write too. It’s a shame they are often seen as the poor cousin to wordier pieces.

The Beauty of the Short Story

Rollercoaster of Writing a Short Story - quick storyThe novel is like a cluster of diamonds adorning the neck.

The short story is a single solitaire, sparkling in its own right.

To encapsulate a plot, characters, mood, themes, and setting within a short piece requires careful handling and a way with words.

The short story is immediate and can pack a punch.

The novel is the marathon where we negotiate the winding path and work our way to the end.

The short story hurtles us to our destination while not allowing the scenery to blur as we move along. That requires immense skill on the writer’s part.

A short story is a thing of beauty. It contains only the best words to encapsulate a short moment in your reading time.

Why I Keep Writing Short Stories

Rollercoaster of Writing a Short Story - Penguin short storiesI love the freedom they give. I don’t often plan short stories in much detail. For novels, I am the perfectionist plotter.

I’ve often written short stories with only a germ of an idea and watched my fingers fly over the keyboard. It’s liberating.

Short stories are a challenge when I have so many ideas and a plethora of words, desperate to burst forth. They rein me in and teach me how to be concise. This really helps with editing novels!

I’ve started using short stories to go into more depth with my novel. The novel is based on a 1980s council estate. There are many minor characters.

After writing it, I felt I wanted to get to know some characters in more depth. I’ve loved the setting and the nostalgia too.

I’m currently writing a collection of stories for separate characters that live on the estate. It feels like I’m writing a soap opera with a different episode for each character. I’m really enjoying it.

Short stories are little, complex breaths of creativity for me, among the minutiae of editing, revising, and spending long periods of time immersed in one work.

Each short story is an exhalation of a new idea and an outburst of imagination.

Over to You

Do you write short stories? What do you like or not like about them?

Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?

Do you read short stories? What do you like or not like about them?

Do you choose to read novels or short stories?

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

10 comments on “The Rollercoaster of Writing a Short Story

  1. I write some short stories, I’m actually working on two right now. Mostly I write them without much thought to planning either. I can play around with them a bit more than my novel. I too have thought about taking the minor characters in my novel and writing a short story for each. Hmmmm, maybe one for one of the antagonist characters? She’s not in the entire novel, so she’s not the only antagonist. Anyway, they are a nice way to get to know our characters better, but yes, they are tricky to write because we do need to be concise without leaving out too much.

    1. It sounds like you’re getting a lot out of writing short stories.

      I encourage you to write stories for your other characters. Even if you never use them, they’re really useful for getting to know characters more.

  2. I am currently writing a short story for the first time. It’s for the CBC Short Story competition over here in Canada and I am finding it exciting to produce. Exciting because so much has to be encapsulated in very few words, the maximum is 2,500 for the purposes of the competition, and exciting because you have to introduce plot, characters and, most importantly, interest without the space a novel allows you. My story is called ‘The Millennium Candidate’ (riffing on the ‘Manchunian Candidate’ novel and movie, but in title only) and I am on my 7th iteration at the moment, which I hope will be nearly the last (it has to be submitted by the 31st of this month), and it has given me an appetite to write more of them. It’s fun. So good topic for your blog Lisa and incredibly well timed (for me). Thank you.

    1. That certainly was great timing!

      It’s great to hear you’ve started writing short stories. They are great for honing writing skills and sometimes taking a break from bigger projects.

      All the best with the competition, Ian.

  3. I love editing short stories because I enjoy seeing how the author’s word choice has such an impact on the feel of things and the direction it takes.

    I’m only a blog writer, but I can’t write a short blog post without working VERY hard at it. Heck, I can’t even write a short blog comment most of the time. I blame my Italian half.

  4. I write quite a lot of short stories and haven’t been that satisfied with them. They are harder than I thought. I actually thought they would be easier than writing my novel but getting everything into a short story to make it work is very challenging. One ended up becoming my WIP because it just kept working so that’s a good thing even though it defeats the whole object.

    1. Short stories certainly are a lot more involved than we think. It’s great one of your short stories has inspired you to keep writing it though.

      Thanks for commenting, Debbie.

  5. I have been writing short stories since my beginnings as a writer. For me, the short story was easier to conceptualize, though as I’ve gone on, it seems that plot and character sufficient to sustain the short story are harder to find. Some of my short stories are reworkings of events I’ve seen in my life, others attack my reading of the world as it should not be.

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