Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Advantages of Short Story Writing

By Leigha Dickens
2004, Leigha Dickens


So you want to be a writer?  That's quite a lofty ambition.  It takes hard work, dedication, and time.  Sometimes it can take years to complete a novel, and it can be even harder to get one sold and actually begin a successful career.  It can be very rewarding to have a published novel, but also frustrating trying to get there. 

However, there's another part of the field of writing that is often overlooked, a whole section that can be a powerful tool for writers making a career.  When you're aspiring to be a published writer, don't overlook the short story.

People have been telling short stories for as long as they have been around to do so.  Cavemen painted the stories of successful or memorable hunting trips on cave walls. Ancient Greeks and Romans compiled hundreds of stories about the gods and goddesses they worshipped, and their mythology is still widely read today.  In Native American cultures it was common for people to gather around a wise storyteller, who would pull an article, such as a feather or a claw, out of a bag, and tell a story about the animal it came from. Even today we gather around campfires and listen as our friends tell us ghost stories. 

None of these stories are ever extremely long and complicated -- otherwise the listener might become confused or lose interest -- but the form has always been something that most people enjoy.

This is the power of a short story.  In the written form, Edgar Allen Poe defined a short story as a piece that can be read in one sitting.  The writer doesn't spend a lot of time in development of a complicated plot and many characters; instead she focuses on one main concept and finds a way to effectively tell it.  The number of magazines, journals, and anthologies that exist in the publishing industry suggest that this is a thriving medium for writers.

The written short story as we know it today is relatively new.  Writers like Poe and Edith Wharton in the mid 1800s strove to make it popular by writing short stories themselves.  Poe edited several magazines of short works, and many nonfiction books follow the rules for short stories that he laid out. It is through his efforts that we have the short story market we have today. 

From the commercial aspect of being a writer, the short story market has much to offer.   Short stories take much less time to write than novels, so you can get something completed quickly and have it on its way to the publisher.  They are short, neat and compact, so it's possible to get many written within one year and they can be a good way to gain recognition in the field of publishing.

It is sad but true that more and more professional markets for novels refuse to accept unsolicited submissions, from writers without an agent.  This closes the door on many new writers.  However, most short story markets aren't closed like this, so they give new writers a place to submit work and begin a career.  Credentials gained through short story publishing can help increase a writer's chance of finding a good agent who will help her get through the "no unsolicited submissions" bar with a novel.

This is only the commercial aspect, of course.  Artistically, short stories give writers a chance to express those ideas they could partially form but perhaps not develop into the complexity of a whole novel. 

It can be a challenge to write a short story.  They have a strict form, which is often best limited to a few scenes and often few characters besides the main character and an antagonist.  Yet at the same time they open many possibilities to singularly explore a plot, character, or concept.   As a writer, it is your challenge to focus on your concept and employ all of your creative power into presenting the idea in the magical way that great writers do.