Earlier this week, to commemorate my mom’s birthday, I wrote about a fun memory: how she taught the value of branching out and trying new things. This is no less applicable to writing fiction: all authors need to stretch themselves and leave their comfort zone to develop new skills.
What are some ways to do that, though?
Well, of course, there’s always reading. Find an example of a great novel that exhibits the qualities you want to try out, to see what makes the technique work.
When it comes to giving that technique a shot on your end, though, the short story is GREAT for experimentation!
I realize none of those observations are particularly deep or earth-shatteringly brilliant. Still, I’m sure I’m not the only novelist out there who avoids writing short stories, and I think that’s not good for me.
I don’t think it’s good for any writer to avoid writing shorter pieces. Even if you never share those pieces, they are useful for development and growth in a ways that a longer project just can’t be.
MERITS OF THE SHORT STORY
I have been focusing on my Herezoth novels more or less exclusively, for years, where my fiction is concerned. I have written some short stories, though. Mainly when I was in college, before I dreamed Herezoth up.
And I think the short story structure is a great format, in particular, to try out new things in writing:
- a new point of view
- a new genre
- a new structure to your plots
- heck, short stories can even be GREAT ways to get to know your characters for a novel and what their history is. Craft some backstory as a private short story. You might end up being able to use some of the material in a novel.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized short stories have a lot of benefits when you’re thinking of branching out and writing something different, something new for you.
First, they’re short, so the investment isn’t that great. If the project doesn’t work, you haven’t wasted months and months writing a “failed novel.” You’ve just “wasted,” probably, a week or two.
Because the investment is less, taking the leap is less intimidating. You’re risking less, so it’s easier to overcome the jitters, your will not to write something awful.
Also, there are no greater opportunities for growth and development in writing than analyzing a complete project of your own, whether story or novel, and seeing how it holds up. What is good and what is bad.
Obviously, when you’re trying something very new for you, something you might want to use in a novel, it makes sense to try your hand at a short story or two first.
That way, you get the benefit of all the lessons from analyzing a completed piece, improving your chances of writing a solid first draft of a novel down the road that employs the same new structure, POV, or genre.
WHY BRANCH OUT?
If you know you like writing in third person, why write in first? If you know you enjoy diving into your developed fantasy world, why turn to science fiction or historical fiction?
It all depends on the person, I think. Writers, like all people, can get bored writing the same thing over and over (or what feels like the same thing).
Personally, I avoid boredom by throwing gaps of time between my Herezoth novels…. A character I’ve written about beforehand is still the same person, but also quite different ten or fifteen years later in life.
I’ve gotten to see child characters grow up and do cool things. That prevents me getting sick of Herezoth and its troubles.
Eventually, though, I’m going to run out of realistic plots that aren’t just copies of what I’ve written before. Sometimes that happens….
Other times a writer has to switch gears because it doesn’t make sense to force the same-old-thing any longer. It’s run its course and would no longer be original, would no longer engage readers.
Reaching this point is not a bad thing. It just happens…. And when it does, good writers call it a day and start something new.
I can think of lots of movie series that would have been better cutting the cord after two (or even one) installments. Rather than keep doing the same thing, the plots just get more and more outlandish as writers struggle to keep things “fresh.”
A third reason to branch out: writing a short story that explores a new technique might allow you to skillfully add that technique to your standard structure and improve its quality or its depth.
Again, it’s all about the writer. I wouldn’t tell an author who is having success writing one way and still has a blast writing that way to shake things up just to shake things up. Especially not in a long piece.
But that’s the beauty of a short story. It’s short. And sometimes it’s just fun to be able to say, “I tried that style out.”
Do you write short stories and novels, both? If not, why not? If so, how do you feel your shorts influence your novel writing, or improve it? Do you like to try new things in your writing or do you prefer to stick with what’s comfortable?
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to sign up to follow my blog by email (top right of the page). That way you won’t miss future posts.