Short Stories vs. Novels

A friend recently asked on FB whether one needed to write short stories before novels. It’s an interesting question, and one I’ll approach a bit differently.


When I decided to write for publication (not just for fun) I sat down and wrote my first novel, The King’s Daughter.  It ran 153K and I was quite proud of myself for finishing it.

Then I went to a workshop. To get in, I had to whip out three short stories.  I tried, and basically ended up with a pair of novel starts and one short story that was actually a short story….but I didn’t like it.  That in itself was a wake-up call for me.  I realized that I didn’t know how to write a short story….which in turn made me question how well I did on that first novel.

Looking back at that first novel, I tackled way too much time in it.  The book covers two years, during the first of which, nothing happens.  The first year is ALL character development.  I didn’t realize that until I started trying to write short fiction.

So for me, writing short fiction was a lesson in understanding what makes a good plot. It taught me to cut out what wasn’t important.  And it taught me to start with the dead body.

So I wrote about 20 pieces of short fiction over the next couple of years, most of which have been published. One is sitting on my desktop, one on the back burners, and a couple have been trunked (including that first short story that I didn’t like.)

For me, short is rarely less than 9K. I still don’t have the knack of writing really short.  My brain just doesn’t do that well (as opposed to several of my friends who excel at that!)

All that said, I think that for me, trying to get short fiction pubbed first paid off.



For a lot of writers, this is never an option. A lot of genres don’t have much in the way of  markets for short fiction.  So, for example, most of my RWA peeps have never even considered short fiction.  When I told my RWA group that I’d sold a short story for a thousand dollars*, many of them were shocked.  Not at the amount, but that the possibility existed. Their publication path far more often goes through contests…

And YA authors seem to start–on the whole–at novel length (yes, there are plenty of exceptions.)

So I don’t necessarily think that short fiction is necessary. Plenty of people get their novels published without short fiction.



*this was actually $500 for the story and $500 for a prize for the story, but it was one check, so….


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