This month is National Short Story month.  For many authors, writing a short story is a bigger challenge than writing a novel.

Much of our writing education is geared towards novels for economic, as well as artistic reasons. And if we get serious about our writing, our dream is most often to write the great American novel, not to come up with short stories.

However, short stories can open opportunities to writers, by providing additional markets for their work and helping them hone their writing craft.  In addition, in the digital age, some authors have taken to selling their short stories as 99 cent ebooks, which can make the whole excercise far more profitable:

How can we get our mind around writing short stories? There are several key ways to think of them:

1) Short Stories Are All Around You

When we think of short stories, we may think of High School English assignments when we were required to read or write them.  However, the truth is that they’re all around us.

If you watch a regular scripted 30-60 minute TV show, you’re watching a short story on film.  We grew up being read short stories with characters such as Dr. Seuss when we were young. When we were a little older, we may have read books such as, Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain which were collections of short stories.  Some songs are even brief short stories.

Beyond fiction, and tell each other short stories all the time. We say, “I had the worst experience at this restaurant…” And we start off into a short story.  Or, “Let me tell you what happened when my grandchild came over…” Some of these, if written down might be interesting, but the point is that we tell them.  And so one type of short story, actually takes a small incident that has a big impact on the lives of our characters.

2) Short Stories are Experiments

Short stories offer a great opportunity to experiment in your writing, because you’re not committing to doing a whole novel. You can try a story on for size.

Some ways you can experiment with short stories include having a different narrator or point of view character. This can include having a first person narrator if you always write your novels  in the third person. If you want to have a  POV character of a different gender or ethnic background than you usually write, this can be a great place to experiment. You could try writing a story with a blind man as a point of view character.

You can also experiment with different genres than you normally write. if you want to branch out

Some of your experiments may have positive results such as published short stories. You may even discover something that can be used in a later novel. For example, the solution to Dashiell Hammett’s classic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon was actually borrowed from a short story Hammett wrote in the 1920s.

3) Short  Stories are Opportunities to Tell Your Character’s Backstory

Well-developed characters in novels often have had very interesting lives.  If this backstory is really interesting, it could make a very good short story.

If one of our characters mentions that he was a sea captain during World War II, there may be a short story in that part of his life. If he tells our hero, “I was playing AA ball for the Yankees and I got word that my contract wasn’t being renewed. My life was over. I went out back with the shotgun and would have blown my head off except…”

This could easily be expanded into a short story with the speaker as the hero.

However, you find your inspiration, writing short stories can be rewarding to your writing career.