Don’t be afraid to go where your writing takes you, including exploring your craft, the world, and yourself. I’ve talked about not shying away from altering that precious first draft, but this week I want to briefly revisit the benefits to writing short stories.
Short stories provide significant opportunities with minimal investment. If the story goes nowhere the gains still outweigh the losses since we haven’t lost six months of our lives. Typically, I can draft a 5,000 word short story in one to three days. That represents minimal risk. It’s like a safety net where I’m free to experiment.
You learn by doing. That was true when it came to chasing mammoths and it still applies. Short stories vary in length, but still require at least a few characters, a plot, arcs, and all the other story elements, just on a smaller scale. Even flash fiction requires the most basic elements of story structure.
It’s like training for a marathon. You don’t run a marathon every day in preparation. Instead, you prepare your body for endurance in other ways and run shorter distances.
Short stories provide the opportunity to explore themes and issues while learning about yourself and your worldview. Finding your voice takes time and the more opportunities you provide for it to surface and grow the better.
It’s allowed me to explore many topics. For instance:
- responsibility and commitment
- rebuilding a life after rape
- parental neglect
- believing in oneself
- prejudice (in its many forms)
- mental health issues like depression and anxiety
- obsessive behaviors
I’ve also spoofed classic films and books for fun, though I’ve always spun them into the fantasy or science fiction genres where I feel most comfortable.
Sometimes I discover I don’t know what I’m talking about, while other times I learn more about myself. It goes without saying, though, to beware producing preachy discourse for public consumption. Hammering people with political views while ignoring the elements of story isn’t fiction writing, it’s essay writing. Audience and intent matter.
Also, many experts caution against attempting fantasy short stories, arguing the world building requirements preclude fitting a story into the format. There’s a lot of truth in that. I’ve crashed a number of short stories trying to accomplish the task. On the other hand, I’ve learned that narrowing focus often works.
In other words, restrict the story to including no more than one or two elements of a magic system, for instance. Anymore than that will cause problems. Keep the focus on the characters (note the absence of fantasy tropes in my list above).
All that said, let a short story take you where it will. If it isn’t working, abandon it. Too preachy? Set it aside or turn it into an essay. Too much world building? Consider turning it into a novella or novel. Regardless, you’re honing your craft and that’s what matters most.