Writing Short Stories - From a Creative Perspective

Over the last two weeks, we've looked at the business side of why write short stories - something I hate doing. I'm a writer, dammit! I love story. I love seeing worlds unfold beneath my fingers, to watch characters come to life, to see the story unfurl - but, let's be real, business is important if you want to make a living from that kind of magic, so it needs to be looked at.

This week, we get to look at something much more fun: the creative reasons to write short stories. This is one of those intangible things that writers need to grow and develop. It's hard to measure from a business sense, but it's there, and it's vital.

To put it briefly, short stories are a way of discovering new stories, new characters and new worlds - in the same way I've found flash fiction can be - but that depends on your approach. Up until recently, my main approach was to simply sit down and start typing.

If I was writing for a magazine, I'd make sure I was writing in the right genre, was aware of any rules about blood, gore, sweariness, word length, and/or theme, and just write. I'd also try and read a couple of issues to get a feel for the style they were looking for, too - but I would never actually try and plot an outline before I started. And most times I didn't even have a character in my head.

I would just start writing.

At the time of writing this post, I have 85 short stories completed and either published or under submission. Of those, only three were written to an outline - and that only because that was the editorial requirement. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life... but that is for another post.

So, how have those 85 short stories helped from a creative perspective?

And in answering this, I have to be honest. Those 85 short stories often had a lot of help from the  768 pieces of flash fiction I interspersed between them - which, again, is a topic for another post.

They can help you discover new worlds

Writing a short story with nothing in my head, meant I didn't have a prescribed world or setting in my head. It meant I had to think of one as I went along, and it made me consider new possibilities that I might not have thought of without being constrained by the story length, or the aim of submitting it to a certain market, or uploading it for publishing, within a specific time-frame.

Without the short stories and flash fiction, the pixie dust world setting would never have come into being, or be working its way towards three separate anthologies or a novel series. Likewise the  worlds of Odyssey.

They can help you discover new characters

Writing a short story with nothing - and no-one - in my head, forced me to explore different kinds of characters. Who were they? And what could have possibly brought them to the mess they were in, now? What did they have, as a person, that made them unique and worth reading about?

Without the short stories and flash fiction, Cutter, Mack, and Delight wouldn't exist - and neither would the six-book Mack 'n' Me series. Without the short stories Harper, the series of tales about the troll-fighter betrothed to the Lord of Winter, and the pixie-dust setting with its Paranormal Operations Squad just would not be. And neither would the Lunar Wolves.

They stretch your writing in a new direction

Each short story must stand alone, draw the reader in, satisfy their hunger for a tale, and leave them both replete and wanting more. Writing of something new, outside your novels, or your usual setting, only opens up more opportunities for you to do that.

They can provide a discovery ground for reader preferences

Short stories can be a way of testing the waters of a new setting. You might discover a new steam-punk fantasy universe you want to explore, but have trouble justifying why you would change from your usual repertoire of action-packed science fiction or contemporary romance. A short story can not only help you discover your new universe and characters, but publishing it can give your readers an opportunity to have their say, so to speak, on the new direction, and you can base the decision on whether or not to pursue more tales in that universe on the reception the story receives or how it sells. You never know, it could open up a new audience, and add to your existing one, with minimal risk to your creative adventure.

Short Stories are a playground for your imagination

With minimal risk in terms of time or loss of audience.

In short, they're worth the time, if you need to discover your next world or novel series, and will let you test your reader's reactions to what you find.

Next week, we'll take a look at why writing short stories might be worth the effort from a hard-headed writing perspective.

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