WHY WRITE SHORT-FICTION
by Dennis Doty
I’ve had quite a few writers over the last year tell me that they don’t write short fiction. The reasons have been as varied as the writers. Some say, they have no interest in writing short stories, some say they just can’t seem to get the hang of the form, others say that they have been working on their novel for (fill in the blank) length of time and they don’t want to think about short stories until they are done.
That’s all fine and well, but there are some serious advantages to writing short fiction that should be considered. No matter what stage your career may be in, we all strive to improve and perfect our craft. Writing short fiction will, without a doubt, make you a better writer.
When writing a novel, it isn’t at all unusual to take a paragraph or even half a page to set a scene, show the reader your character’s motivations and goals or establish relationships between the characters. With a short story, you simply don’t have that luxury. By necessity, you learn to paint with an economy of strokes, a minimalist approach to the story. You still must have strong characters, the story still should flow, the pacing is still important, but you must do it all in a very short space.
The successful short story writer is very aware of what can and cannot be included in their story. Every word is weighed for its value to the story. Does it move the story forward? Does it illuminate the character? There’s little room for fluff.
Sounds tough, doesn’t it? It is. But I think that it’s totally worth it. I’m not the guy who wants to wait weeks, more often months and sometimes years to see my project completed. In High School woodshop, I didn’t have the patience to build a sideboard or a dresser. I was the guy who built a gunrack out of four pieces of red cedar so I could finish in a week. Never mind that my parents didn’t own guns. Grandpa did.
Short stories aren’t instant gratification, but they certainly are completed a lot sooner than a novel. Instead of one, two or maybe three projects a year, I can easily finish two per month. More, if I really work at it. They may not net me a five-thousand-dollar advance, but they will sell.
Now consider my ability to learn and master my craft. I don’t think that anyone will argue with me when I say that the two most important parts of any story are the hook and the denouement. Without a strong hook, you aren’t likely to get the reader to read your whole story. Without a satisfying denouement, you leave the reader feeling unsatisfied, cheated or confused. Getting these two parts right, takes practice. I’ve heard more than one professional writer say that it takes approximately half-a-million words to be really competent as a professional.
Let’s do the math. A novelist will write six or seven books to reach that word count. That’s six or seven hooks and six or seven denouements. As a short-story writer, I will have written over one hundred and forty of each before I reach a half-million words.
Finally, let’s look at profitability. Let’s assume that our novelist has seven titles in his or her half-million words. It’s taken him or her say three years of hard work to write these books and they can expect to continue to produce two books per year. I, will have produced around 140 short stories, and will continue to produce about thirty per year. If our novelist sells his book on Amazon at $14.95 per copy and sells one copy of each title, he will earn $73.25. If I sell my short stories on Amazon at $1.99 and sell one copy of each title, I will earn $97.51. Not only do I earn over thirty percent more than my novelist friend, but I can also combine stories into collections with some of the more popular stories in each and sell them for $15.95 for 25 stories. So now, I have 5 more products earning another $55.83. Selling just one of each title, I earn $153.34 compared to my novelist friend’s $73.25, more than twice as much for the exact same word count.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s not a thing wrong with writing novels. I’m continuing to work on mine and plan to be a successful novelist one day. But I’m sixty-seven years old. I don’t have all that much time to perfect my craft and writing short stories gives me a lot more bang for the buck.