The Short Story: A Way for a Writer to Experiment?

test-tubes-1256556-mEarlier 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.


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.


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?

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  1. Why tossing a work in progress is never a failure
  2. Questions to ask before you cut something

30 responses to “The Short Story: A Way for a Writer to Experiment?

  1. I am working on a novel, but in between, I write poetry, short stories and, of course, blogging. I love the short pieces because they force me to focus on little details I might miss in the larger pieces; I also find them to be wonderful exercises in keeping me inspired when I’ve stalled or need to take a break from the larger piece. Like you say in your title, I can branch out and experiment and I find wonderful things I can use in future writing.

  2. While working on my own books I had produced several short but only uploaded two. With Halloween coming, I have a need to produce another and a writing competition at the beginning of the year needing another.
    While I treat these things as a challenge, I am actually feeling like I am stood on the edge of a deep pit trying not to fall in.

    I used the short story format (2.2K Words for the competition) as an exercise to develop idea’s for my book.

    • I definitely understand feeling overwhelmed. That’s a LOT of projects!!! Best of luck to you: wishing you all the best!

      Once my life stabilizes a bit (things are utter chaos right now and have been for months) I might look into crafting some stories for some competitions or something myself. I’ve heard that’s a very good way to get something legitimate to hang your hat on and also get exposure.

  3. Very good reasons to try writing them. And creating a short story for back story to potentially be used in a larger work could never be a bad idea.

  4. Every now and then I put away my WIP novel and write short stories, if I feel inspired enough. One of these (the first after a long time of ONLY working on my novel) has turned out to be my first published piece. I took a leap of faith and just sent it to a publishing house who was collecting stories for an anthology. I didn’t expect that they’d like it, so the publishing was very encouraging for my writer’s self-esteem. Short stories are indeed a great way to experiment, to explore your strengths – and also to find out what you’re NOT good at. I did a creative writing seminar last winter. We were supposed to write Horror Short Stories. After that seminar I knew that I really suck at horror 🙂 And it’s good to know that stuff – because you find out why you are good or bad at certain genres, perspectives and so on, why certain things work for you, why others don’t and which unexpected things might work for you surprisingly well after all. And one more thing: Short stories can grow into bigger stories and eventually into a novel.

    • oh my gosh, I totally agree. It is vital to know as an author what your weak points are, so that you can either decide to work on them (depends if you consider it worth it as a writer) or strategically avoid them. I would be horrible at horror too, I think!

  5. Maybe the short story that started it all can even be supplemental material on the fan page, for example… There seems to be a trend lately for new writers to try to sell short stories; I think many may be missing the best points that short stories have to offer writers. Nice post. 🙂

  6. I played around with novellas earlier this year to test out other genres. I’ve been too busy to keep up with the practice, but it was fun to play around with it for a while. What about using poetry to branch out or flex your creative skills?

    • That’s another great suggestion. Poetry is really special…. I haven’t written any myself in years (and I should) but you are dead on. Poetry teaches us how to express ourselves and how to play around with language in ways other kinds of writing can’t.

  7. You could write short stories about some of your series characters, including prequels, and publish them (free) at places at Wattpad. Of course, each piece would include appropriate information for readers to discover your published books.

    Or just write and save everything until you have enough material for a published collection of your work.

  8. Good advice. I’ve written short stories and novellas in between novels. I love the Father Brown mystery stories and find them very inspiring when I’m thinking about writing a short story.

  9. My current WIP came from a flash fiction story that kind of took on a life of it’s own. I like writing flash fiction to get my writing juices going, but I haven’t done a lot of ‘shorts’. Thanks for reminding me why it’s a good thing to do short stories!

  10. Pingback: How do authors experiment? | The Proof Angel

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