The Pros and Cons of Writing Short Stories

The submission period for the next Fellowship of Fantasy anthology just opened, and I wasn’t going to submit anything. Mostly because I’m in the middle of writing Turrim 3 and I am hoping to have the rough draft finished by the first of June.

However, the theme is “fairy tales.”

And then I had an idea. A somewhat ridiculous idea… for an original fairy tale about a character who just can’t quite catch a break… with lots of humor and hopefully some relatable moments.

“The word limit is 3,000 – 10,ooo words, and I could use a break from Turrim 3, I’ve been working steadily on it for 5 weeks, now, and this won’t take long!”

There are a lot of ups and downs when it comes to writing short stories.

Pros:

They are short.

That means everything is shorter. Drafting is shorter, editing doesn’t take as long, you can go from idea to polished story in an incredibly short amount of time.

For example: I sat down on Thursday and wrote out the entire story in a single day. It’s the most I’ve written in a single day in a long time, clocking in at just under 5,000 words, but from start to finish, the rough draft was done. I spent Saturday revising and coming up with a second draft.

It still needs some polishing and word-smithing, but while those bits can be time-consuming due to their painstaking nature, it still won’t take me more than a day or two to complete.

And, VOILA! An entire story is complete in a short amount of time.

Because they are short, you can demonstrate your writing style and author’s voice to your audience in a short amount of time. Reading a short story can be a nice way to make readers interested in reading your longer works. This is nice, because one of the down-sides to being an author is that there are not many ways to easily “display” your work to your audience in non-time-consuming ways. A musician can play you an entire song in under 5 minutes (most under 3). An artist can show you an entire painting that will take you 30 seconds to look at and appreciate. But a novelist… ah! There’s the rub. Because even a relatively short novel can take a reader several hours to complete. That’s not an insignificant time commitment. So a short story can be a very helpful tool to overcome this difficulty.

Cons:

They are short.

With short stories, I am always vividly aware of the fact that I have a lot fewer words with which to explain, describe, and weave. There is less time with which to captivate my reader. This is good, because it teaches economy of words. But it is also bad, because I tend to discover that I spent a lot of time repeating myself in the rough draft, desperate to make sure the reader “gets” what I’m driving at or trying to describe, or the subtle joke (that is now not so subtle because I tossed a neon sign above it).

Another problem with this is that short stories tend to leave the reader with a few questions. And readers rarely like that. Unanswered questions are generally seen as a “bad” thing, by readers and writers alike.

I disagree with this sentiment. A story that leaves you wondering, questioning, imagining… what is wrong with that? (The Giver is a wonderful example of this)

Now, some things need to be answered. You can’t leave the reader with too many unanswered questions, because that can become frustrating for the reader. Of course, you don’t want to leave ALL the ends loose (unless you’re a certain director who seems to have been given carte blanche by the world-wide audience at large when it comes to not answering questions or coming up with dissatisfying answers to questions *coughLOSTcough* *coughRey’sParentscough*)

And those are the pros and cons I can think of off the top of my head. I’m looking forward to sharing this new one with you… it’s very different, and not related to any of my other books/stories… but I hope it will make people laugh.

What about you, dear Reader? Do you enjoy reading short stories? Why or why not? Do you agree with my pros and cons? Why or why not? Can you think of other pros and cons to short stories? If you are an author, do you write short stories? Why or why not?

 

~ jenelle

6 Comments

J.M. Jablowski

I totally agree on your sentiments about leaving questions unanswered. Some of my favorite stories and shows left some questions unanswered deliberately and it left me with a sense that the world continued outside the story I was just told.

Reply
jenelle

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t mind a few unanswered questions here and there!

Reply
E.F.B.

I enjoy reading short stories, but I’ve noticed I’m a lot more critical when reading them than with novels. For example, I’m signed up for the Daily Science Fiction e-mails that send out one SF or Fantasy short story every day, but only read maybe…10% of the ones they send? This is partly because some of the stories clash with my moral standards, but also because, with shorts, it has to grab me from the very beginning or I’m not going to take even those few minutes to read it. However, I’ll point out that unanswered questions has nothing to do with that, and I’ve found I like the ones that spark my imagination and leave me wanting more. :)

On the writing side, I’ve been dabbling in writing shorts and enjoy that they allow me to try something different without committing to a whole novel. It’s also something that (in theory :p) I can try to sub to magazines to get myself out there and make a little money faster than writing a novel and getting it published. Now I just have to actually get around to subbing out the one short story I have that’s ready to go…

Reply
jenelle

Yeah, I’m a lot more critical of short stories, too. I’ve always struggled a bit with reading short stories. I like long, epic tomes… and short stories… to me… are a bit like Inigo Montoya choosing to start with his left hand. “If I use my right, it’s over too quickly.” :-D

But lately, I’ve been enjoying short stories more… possibly because I have fewer large blocks of time in which to read.

I’ve never been very good at writing short stories, either. But practice appears to be helping. :)

Reply
Deborah O'Carroll

Ahaha! I’m glad I’m not the only one who will have a short story smack me upside the head and a day later I’ve written it. XD

I love your pros and cons list. (And that “they are short” is on both. XD)

I think I like to wrap things up rather well, BUT a lot of my short stories I have had people say they “want more” and beg me for sequels or to turn the stories into novels… which is a whole ‘nother problem to deal with. XD But I think that’s different than people not knowing what HAPPENED or finding leftover threads. Which, yes, I don’t like when soooo many things are left unexplained… but sometimes I don’t mind. It depends.

Also, I’m now thinking of one I wrote which everyone who read it understood it differently/got different things out of it… which I can’t decide if that means I’m a bad author, or if it was brilliant because I left some of it vague for readers to puzzle out themselves. DUNNO.

Short stories, for me, are usually a vivid standalone image of small set of scenes which come knocking at the door of my brain and demand writing — and sometimes they’re quite different than what I normally write, which means they’re good for experimenting with things, but also mean they’re not always a good showcase of my usual writing…

I LOVE that I’m able to write one in a short amount of time (as someone who’s had trouble focusing and getting longer stories finished… *sigh*).

But sometimes I do get rather attached to the characters/setting and want to do something more with it. (My otter is a case in point, especially with everyone badgering me about it. XD) I haven’t, yet, but there’s always that question, that longing… that “what if…?” of getting to continue a short story. :P

ANYWAY, this comment has turned into a short story on its own (please excuse the ramblings!), so I’ll just say that I enjoyed this post, CONGRATS on writing a story (I look forward to reading it someday!), and short stories are great fun to explore. :)

Reply
jenelle

Hehe, yes! I’m glad you enjoyed that my pros and cons were the same thing! I was chuckling to myself as I wrote the post… always hoping someone out there will enjoy my strange sense of humor.

I tend to struggle with reading short stories, because often they are “too short.” But I love short stories that are little “side quests” to longer works. The Stars Above set of short stories, for example, was a really fun little conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles. By themselves, the stories were cute, but definitely would have left me going, “Huh?”

I would argue that if you can write something that multiple people get very different things out of, then you have succeeded at writing characters and situations that are relatable in various ways… and that makes you a brilliant author. :)

Thank you for your comment! I love comments of any length! (I mean… really… who doesn’t?)

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