Writing Short Stories — Novel Prep, or Not?

It was a big basketball weekend, of course. My Cardinals of Louisville are riding high, and seem to be a reasonable favorite to win it all. Lots of good teams out there, though, far too much competition left to get particularly cocky.


Myke Cole, a writing acquaintance of mine who I recently met in person for the first time, tweeted yesterday that “Writing short stories because you want to be a novelist is like practicing to ride a motorcycle because you want to drive a car.”

Given that there exist many very fine race drivers throughout history who learned their race craft on motorcycles before moving to automobile racing (can you say world champion John Surtees, among many others?), and given the fact that for many, many years a gajillion novelists in our speculative field of Fantasy and Science Fiction got their starts writing short stories, I have to admit I found Myke’s commentary a bit too restrictive. Myke and I bandied about conversation on his FB page, and then let it die.  As I said there, we would agree, I think (I hope?), about more than we disagree. Myke is a completely Grade A guy, and I admire the heck out of him for many reasons. Realize, too, that at the end of the day, though I’ve written several novel-length works, Myke is successfully publishing them. In that light, I am a short story guy. So take my thoughts with big grains of thought-salt.

And my thoughts here are that–especially for new writers–the most important thing is to learn how to actually write as rapidly as possible. And I think you learn to write by writing things that get you excited. For some folks writing novels is what gets them excited–they can deal with the time investment required to complete one on spec and move on. But a vast majority of new writers I run into don’t have that psychology. They want a sense of having completed something … and in most cases that’s an important aspect of the learning curve. For them, short stories work as their proving grounds just fine. For them, the act of writing short stories provides them the ability to rapidly try out new and different forms of storytelling–fiddle with plot points, and with structure, and characterization and dialect and whatever. Writing short stories gives new writers a place to practice basic prose craft, and work out how to make the flow of information in their work happen well for them.

Of course, plotting a novel is different than plotting a short story. The pacing is different. The short story is more precise–more focused. But ultimately, I think a novel has many short stories in it. A good one, anyway. I think every major secondary character in a good novel has his or her own storyline, and that storyline is essentially a short story in itself–the telling of which is spread out over the entirety of the book. So it seems to me that the act of writing short stories can’t possibly do anything but augment a new writer’s ability to write a good novel.

Perhaps I’m just making that up. I don’t know.

I’m a short story guy, you see?

So, while I agree totally with Myke that novelists can learn to be novelists by writing novels (and that perhaps that’s even the best way), I think there is no reason you can’t include writing short stories on your list of activities that will help you become a novelist, just like riding a motorcycle over a road course is a helluva good way to learn the racing line (which is paramount to being a great race car driver).

That’s my .02, anyway.


So, after this morning’s work episode 5, Lords of Existence, is “in the can.” This means, to me anyway, that the creation of story is now done and it’s moving into the steps more closely aligned with production rather than deep story telling. I personally include some beta reading in this production phase, but that’s just me. It rings in at about 25,400 words by the trusty Microsoft counter, and brings our hero to a new understanding of both himself and the world at large. I’m quite enjoying it.

We now move to episode 6, which I’ve laid out previously but which will need a bit of tweaking based on a small turn that rose itself up in episode five. That happens, you know. And mostly it’s pretty good when it does–though a bit annoying with the rewrites it causes.

My intention is to get either seven or eight episodes complete prior to moving into the release phase–which could, of course, go a few different directions. More coming on that in the future.

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Posted in Daily Writing, Novels, Other Writers, Short Stories.

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