Like many authors, my writing started with a story that I just couldn’t get out of my mind unless I put it to paper. Walking my dog through a local park on a foggy evening, I began to wonder what might be hiding in the misty haze that blanketed the night. I imagined witches battling an ancient evil to save the world from ruin in a war that stretched back centuries with both sides suffering losses before good ultimately prevailed. I sketched out characters, locations, and spells.
Then, I sat down and started writing. But the more I created, the more complicated my story became. My characters outnumbered me. They took over the tale and muddled the plot. Soon, I was overwhelmed by my own creations. I felt lost and never finished the story.
After taking a step back, I realized how much I enjoyed some of the characters. So, I delved into their backstory, hoping it would get me back on track. This led me to expanding the idea into a series of short stories.
Through shorter fiction, the world I’d created came to life. I learned how to craft an exciting, intriguing story in under ten thousand words. Yet, I’ve heard numerous writers say they don’t know if they could write short fiction. They don’t know if they could pen a remarkable story in so few words. Let me assure you, it is possible.
Both short and long fiction have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Both can take readers on exciting adventures through vast lands where they meet wonderous peoples, fight an evil foe, or remind us that the place we love most is home. Both give readers well-developed characters, unexplored worlds, and someone or something to believe in.
The advantage of longer fiction is that within its hundreds of pages and through a single protagonist or a cast of characters with multiple points of view, an author can set up various plot points and twists and delve into the history and backstory of the characters in a world that may span years, even centuries. Think of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. Readers experience the thrilling and adventurous realms of Middle Earth and Westeros through dozens of memorable characters and their struggles and triumphs. In Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, readers follow generations of turmoil with the Mayfair witches. And The Hunger Games takes readers on an up-close and personal journey with Katniss Everdeen.
Shorter fiction gives us equally compelling stories. It just happens in fewer words. Ray Bradbury was a master of short fiction, penning numerous thought-provoking works, including The Martian Chronicles, over his decade’s-long career. Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery confronts the dangers of conformity and blindly flowing tradition. In Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes gives us the inspiring and heartbreaking tale of Charlie Gordon’s desire to be smart.
The difference between long and short fiction is scope. With fewer words, a short story must have a narrower focus.
A short story typically has one, maybe two main characters who are tasked with one goal. In Beyond Death, my protagonist, Detective Matthew Shane, takes readers through his investigation into tracking down a serial killer.
A short story might cover a week, a few days, or even a few hours. In Flight of a Valkyrie, readers follow Astrid through the most challenging day of her afterlife.
A short story must be succinct. Your character’s past must be told sparingly with the details that matter most. In Players, Kristine Russell recalls her past through brief flashbacks as she learns the truth about her life.
Ultimately, it isn’t a battle of longer versus shorter fiction. It’s about writing a good story.
Shorter fiction helped me hone my writing skills. It gave me the confidence to return to longer fiction. I’m currently drafting a paranormal mystery. And, who knows, I may one day finish the story that started it all. I still have my notes stashed away.
DW Harvey is an award-winning author. Inspired by the supernatural and paranormal, she’s penned numerous short stories and is currently working on her first novel. She lives in Southern California with her husband and dog. Follow DW on Twitter @dw_harvey and visit her website at dwharvey.com.