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Learning to Write Short Stories - Start by Reading Short Stories

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Learning to Write Short Stories - Start by Reading Short Stories
by Rochelle Caviness - February 26, 2016

If you want to learn how to write short stories, you first need to read short stories - a lot of them! Reading books on how to write short stories is also a necessity, if you are not able to absorb all the elements of the form from your readings. But, first and foremost, you need to read both literary and genre based short stories, and short stories from both contemporary and traditional sources as well as from as many regions as possible. To this end, you will find that there are many fine books available that offer anthologies of short stories across many periods and genres, some of my favorites are: This is just a very short list, but it will give you a start if you don't have a favorite list of your own.

"Wait," you say. "I'm just interested in writing science fiction, or mysteries, or whatever, why should I read outside my genre?"

Because it is only by reading widely that you will develop a real appreciation for the short story form. In addition, by reading widely across many genres you will be exposed to the full breadth of the form and you will be exposed to a wider range of ideas, techniques, and stylistics forms than you might be just reading within one little niche.

A bigger question is, should you even be writing short stories? If you love short stories, and you read them all the time, there is no question - write short stories. Writing in a form that you are passionate about will speed up the development of your craft as a writer, and you will have a lot more fun than you would slogging through a longer form, such as novel, that you are not interested in pursuing.

However, what if your passion is writing novels or novellas? There are two schools of thought. On one hand, the old standard was that every fiction writer should start out learning their craft by working on short stories. After all, initial works seldom sell, in part because the writer has not yet become sufficiently skilled to present a polished story - so better to cut your teeth on something short that might only take you a week or a month to complete rather than working for a year on a book that might not even be readable. Back in the good old days when this advice was de rigueur, there were hundreds of markets buying short stories - so many in fact that some really horrible stories were published just to fill up the pages of the numerous pulp magazines that had flooded the market. Nowadays, however, the market for short stories has become very limited and it can be very hard to make a sale unless you have a very skilled hand at the short story form - and you have a lot of luck. So what should you do?

Personally, I am still of the mind that every writer should start out writing short stories. Firstly because they are short, so you are less likely to become discouraged and quit before you are finished with the story and because the form teaches you the basics of fiction writing very quickly. However, if you true passion is novel writing, don't waste a lot of time writing short stories. Spend a semester or half a year, or a year, whatever it takes for you to get a good feel for the short story form. Use this time to get some practice starting and finishing stories - and sending them out to publishers. Then put your short stories aside and start working on your novel. You'll approach the longer project with more confidence and a better understanding of the craft than you would have if you started cold! In addition, learning how to write short stories early on in your career will be an aid to you in the future when your novels become popular. Just do a quick web search or look on your favorite online bookstore for your favorite author and you will discover that many of them are keeping their fan's attention by writing and publishing short stories in between the publications of their books.

If you are interested in learning the short story form on your own, verses taking a course, in addition to reading many short stories, you should read several 'how-to' books on short story writing. Three books that are excellent as beginning 'textbooks' in the field are: The short of the short is, if you like to read short stories and you want to write short stories, go at it full-force and immerse yourself in the art and craft of the short story. If you are a novel writer at heart, and just beginning to hone your writing skills, start out with short stories to build your confidence and to start honing your craft. However, move on to longer works of fiction sooner rather than later. Happy writing...

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