Why Should I Write a 2,500 word or 5,000 words or even an 8,000-Word Short Story?

The first thing to ask yourself is why did I join the Hamilton Mountain Writers’ Guild? You told me you wanted to write or you wanted to learn how to write. That’s great if you are serious and if that is the truth just ask anyone in your group how they started. I can promise you that 85% of our guild were never published before but they are now! In your own group, you may have an English teacher or someone who is an author or good at proofreading or even editing and formatting. How did they start and the answer is simple by writing and learning how to improve their craft. By attending your group and guild meetings you will advance and maybe make a new friend?

There is an old Chinese proverb that I believe in and the saying goes something like this: A teacher just opens the door of a classroom and the students that want to learn go through the door. After all my years of teaching, I feel the same way, all I did was open the door and the people who wanted to write are now writing 2,500 – 5,000 and now 8,000 words short stories that might lead then to writing the next great novel to read.  So, let’s talk about our next book!

A short story is just that: short. And they almost always pack a punch. Trimming the fat is as crucial in novels as it is in short stories – perhaps even more so. A novel needs to hold a reader’s attention a lot longer than a short story, and not cutting the fat is a quick trip to boredom.

With short stories, you have a limited amount of space to detail everything in the story. You can’t spend six pages describing a character’s backstory, because by then you may be a third of the way through the story. You have to learn how to drop bits of the character’s backstory throughout the narrative instead of dumping it all on the reader at once. You have to learn how to introduce the reader to your characters as if they were meeting them for real; you don’t find out everything about a person by talking to them for five minutes (unless you’re having one of the strangest conversations you’ve ever had.) You learn about them slowly.

Reading short stories is just as important as writing them if you want to try and develop your writing. Every piece of writing advice ever will tell you that you need to read to become a better writer. I think that sometimes short stories are even better than novels to help develop your skills. (Disclaimer: this is not always true, but bear with me here.) Just as with writing short stories, reading them can help you get a feel for pacing and plot development. You can see how the writers weave together complete characters in such small spaces.

A good way to think about short stories is to view them as snapshots of what a writer can do. You get a brief taste of that writer’s abilities and style. If you don’t like their style, you can move on to another story. The same thing happens when you write a short story. You can get a snapshot of your own abilities, start to get a feel for what you’re good at. If you don’t like where a story is going, or you need to change up your style, it’s fairly easy to revise and change things up – much easier than when you’re 160 pages into a novel and realize you hate everything about it (true story).

Writers have a purpose. Writers have a point they want to convey, whether it be a moral lesson or an insight into life that gives a new perspective. Short story writers want you to gain from their experiences and enhance your life.

  1. Get Started:
  2. Write a Catchy First Paragraph. …
  3. Developing Characters. …
  4. Choose a Point of View. …
  5. Write Meaningful Dialogue. …
  6. Set Up the Plot. …
  7. Create Conflict and Tension. …
  8. Build to a Crisis or Climax.

As others have mentioned, many short stories do not have chapters. However, I have read many novellas (longer than a short story, shorter than a novel) that do have chapters. Short stories, are remember, only 1000 to 9999 words. That is not to say you can not have chapters – far from it.

They are true masters at combining the five key elements that go into every great short story: character, setting, conflict, plot, and theme. Short stories bring more pressure because like poets, each paragraph, sentence, and word are more important than they would be inside a large novel. In a way, the decrease of profitable venues for short story writer has made these writers enhance their craft in order to succeed and remain relevant.

  1. Start by writing the scene. Many short story writers will try to start their stories in a scene, usually, a scene that feels important and engaging. …
  2. Establish the setting. …
  3. Introduce your narrator or main character. …
  4. Open with a line of strong dialogue. …
  5. Present a minor conflict or mystery.

Most agree that under 1,000 words would be rather short and that over 5,000 might be rather too long. As a general guideline, chapters should be between 3,000 to 5,000 words. All of them agree that the chapter length should be defined by the story and that any chapter length targets you decide on are merely guidelines.

10 Types of Short Stories

  • Anecdote. An anecdote is a short account of something interesting and amusing, which usually tells a story about a real person and/or incident. …
  • Drabble. …
  • Fable. …
  • Feghoot. …
  • Flash Fiction. …
  • Frame Story. …
  • Mini-saga. …
  • A chapter from your upcoming book. …
  • Story Sequence.
  • Start your introduction broad, but not too broad. …
  • Provide relevant background, but don’t begin your true argument. …
  • Provide only helpful, relevant information. …
  • Try to avoid clichés. …
  • Don’t feel pressured to write your intro first. …
  • Convince the reader that your short story is worth reading.

Using only three paragraphs (50 – 60 words each) or less, start writing your short story.

Introduction

  1. Begin with an attention grabber. The attention grabber you use is up to you, but here are some ideas: …
  2. If the attention grabber was only a sentence or two, add one or two more sentences that will lead the reader from your opening to your next paragraph.
  3. Finish the paragraph with you’re attention grabber.

Try these creative hook ideas:

  1. Start with a question. Asking your readers to think about the topic your writing about is a great way to get them ready to hear more. …
  2. Use descriptive words. Creating a picture in the reader’s mind can make him or her feel connected to your writing.
  3. Leave it a mystery.

A hook is the first one or two sentences of your short story. It serves as an introduction and works to grab the reader’s attention. The first couple sentences will help your reader decide whether they want to continue reading your short story or not.

If you want to be a great writer, consider writing short stories. The greatest writers throughout history did.

Practice.

If you don’t already know how I feel about practice by now, just take a second look at our name Hamilton Mountain Writers’ Club. Because it’s not enough to just practice, you have to practice the right way.

To practice writing deliberately you have to write finished pieces over and over again. What makes short stories so great for writers is that they give you the chance to write a full-length story from beginning to end. You can practice every part of the writing process, and you can do it in a matter of days or weeks.

A novel, on the other hand, could take years to practice the whole process. And if it’s your first novel, after all that hard work it probably won’t be published. On top of that, deliberate practice requires regular tests. Researchers as early as the 1890s have found that when people are tested, they improve significantly faster, even compared to people with years of experience at a task.

Compare that to how you write. Do you ever write whatever you feel like, and then wonder why you’re not getting better (or worse, why others aren’t responding to your “art.”) Writing should be fun, but unless you’re doing the hard work of constantly submitting your work for publication, you won’t get better as fast as you want to. Short stories are a training ground, the place where you can make all your mistakes before you jump into the much more difficult process of writing a full novel.

You Can Get Published Sooner

There are currently over 6,000+ literary magazines in North America that might publish your short stories compared to just over 2,700 book publishers. Combined with the fact that short stories take so much less time to write, you might find that you can get published faster if you focus first on short stories.

On top of that, getting your short stories published first can lead to finding a publisher for your book. Agents look to literary magazines to find talented emerging writers. If your goal is to publish a book, having first published fiction in literary magazines gives publishers more confidence in the merit and marketability of an author’s work.

Because You Have Stories to Tell.

You should write short stories so you can experience the taut tightrope walk of the moment, the inexhaustible richness of the present. You should write short stories so your children can read them when they’re your age and think, “Wow. My father, my mother was a writer.”

You should write short stories because you’re consuming stories every day, from books and television and movies and newspapers, because you want to stop consuming and start creating.

You should write short stories to discover what your life is for and why you’re here and what you’re supposed to do. You should write short stories because you are a writer, and you have great stories to tell.

Don’t Wait to Write

In short, writing short stories is one of the best ways to practice writing, get feedback, and get your stories into the world. If you want to grow as a writer, this is one of the best ways to do it.

Not sure where to start? Consider joining your own group as this might be a contest for writers’ so get some feedback, encouragement, community, and deadlines to help you take that inspiration and turn it into a great short story.

We all want to become better writers. Why not start your next short story today? As you’re thinking about your short story, I want you to free write. Don’t try to write any particular story. Relax. Just let your story take shape on its own. Why is your short story important because I want to help you publish it for other people to read and enjoy on Amazon. I want to make enough money from our royalties to give to Neighbour2Neighbour. I would like you to enjoy our story podcasted by Mark Newman of the Hamilton Mountain Newspaper and above all that is what writing is all about sharing stories.

Thank you… Professor Barry Gottlieb, Director

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