Top Ten Myths About Writing Short Stories

Top Ten Myths About Writing Short Stories

  1. Short stories are easy to write. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have kids in middle school writing them. Since they’re so easy, you should whip out a story a week, skim through it for grammatical errors and submit it for publication. Or just post them on your blog for the free enjoyment of the masses.
  2. If you’re inclined to make money with them, short stories are a great source of fast cash. Magazines turn out lots of issues every year, and they have a shortage of quality stories being submitted to them. Rumors that editors like to sit on stories for years before making a publication decision are complete fabrication. Also, they pay really, really well. You can probably retire on the royalties of 5-10 short stories in good magazines. Especially if they make it into an anthology.
  3. When it comes to short story contests…don’t. Total waste of time. Just because David Farland made a lot of money and gained a lot of clout winning contests doesn’t mean it’s worth your time. It’s much better to just submit your stories—all of them—for publication.
  4. If you’re having trouble getting your short stories published by magazines, and even the contests aren’t giving you your due, it’s because the editors are idiots. Don’t give up, though—just self-publish an anthology of all your short stories. Don’t bother with taking classes or soliciting beta readers and whatnot. You know you’re good—what else matters?
  5. In a short story, you don’t have a lot of time to slip setting in gradually, so you should just get it over with. Start off with something like: “The orange sun blazed down on the lifeless plain, the cracked dirt crying out for water that hadn’t fallen in countless turns. In the distance, the dying city looked like a mirage seen through the bands of rippling heat, its twisting towers broken like the teeth of the ja-kar fighters that sparred in its cellars.” Once you’re done describing it, feel free to never mention setting again. It’s a short story—readers are unlikely to forget it that soon.
  6. Plots in short stories should be sped-up versions of novel plots. You should still have just as many try-fail cycles, but they should come faster, without breaks. Reflection is all well and good for novels, but you simply have no time for it in short stories. Go! Go! Go!
  7. Short stories are shorter than novels, so you should have correspondingly shorter backgrounds on your characters. After all, if you spend all that time deciding that Joez-bar had a huge crush on Subreka back when they were just orphan children being raised by the Intergalactic Commune, you might be tempted to slip in too much detail about their idyllic days of picking tecker-fruit on the banks of the Zunie river and before you know it, you’ve run out of room for your story about how the grown-up Joez-bar and Subreka are now working to overthrow the dictatorial rule of the Commune. Everyone knows that it’s better to avoid temptation rather than have to spend a lot of time cutting.
  8. Short stories have to be deep and meaningful. If they aren’t, they won’t stick with the readers and you won’t win any Hugos and then the world will implode and your career will be over. To stave off disaster, avoid happy endings. Happy endings are death to short story success. Instead, kill the main character. Or at least the love interest. Or let them both live, but only if she sleeps with his best friend. Now THAT’s meaningful.
  9. Short stories, as everyone knows, are too short. This is just the nature of the beast, and readers accept it. They are used to getting to the end of the story and feeling incomplete, so embrace that as your birthright. Work with it. Make a plan to simply expand all your best short stories to full-length novels. See? All fixed.
  10. Eventually, once you’ve written enough short stories, you can graduate to full-length novels all the time and you won’t ever have to—or want to—write a short story again. Unless it’s for an anthology and you’re writing a story that’s just a spin-off of your popular series that’s mostly for advertisement anyway. So, basically, think of short stories not as their own art form, but as a training ground for the real glory: novel writing.


Now that we have all that cleared up….

I simply can’t write a blog post for 9/11 without talking about 9/11. Doesn’t feel right. So let me take a moment to say that it is writers and storytellers who bear the responsibility of remembering the past and also of helping everyone get past it. The stories we tell of pain and death and heartache and betrayal should always nudge us toward a better future. Toward healing. Sometimes a story can help us heal simply by exposing our deepest wounds and forcing us to examine them in all their burning, agonizing glory. Sometimes a story will walk us through the grief process, show us how to forgive, and present a vision of strength that we can all strive toward. However you choose to tell your stories, don’t be afraid of the pain and the brokenness. Our world is broken in a lot of ways and millions suffer needlessly because of the hatred of others. Politics won’t change that. War won’t fix that. Only stories have the power to change minds and hearts. Use your power wisely.

Now go back up and read the top ten list again so you can leave happy. 🙂