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The Short (Story) Road to the Novel

The short story, once in prominence not only as a commercially viable work but also as a separate art form no less than the novel, has all but vanished. The short story is an excellent training in storytelling – it is like a contained experiment. Even if it fails you have lost what? 6 – 10 pages of writing! Also it’s easier for someone to point out what went wrong in those 6 – 10 pages, what worked, what did not. Doing the same for a 200 page work is far more difficult. Maybe you lost interest on-third of the way into the novel, but plodded on and finally you come out with the verdict I don’t like it.

Maybe a simple adjustment at those points of sagging interest will lift your story from “I don’t like it” to “it was nice” or maybe even “I liked it.” It’s easy to do it in a short story.

A short story helps just like those short driving trips when you are learning to drive.

Ray Bradbury famously advised aspiring authors to start their writing journey with short stories instead of novels. Himself, a prolific writer of over 400 short stories, his main assertion was of course Plot Structure which is much easier to maintain in a short work and extremely easy to lose in a full length novel.

The simple plot structure of Beginning – Middle – End makes it easy to follow and provides a solid backbone to storytelling. The other major advantage of the short story is the POV.

The short story is too short for a change in point of view (POV) and thus you are saved from the indecision that plagues the novelist. Whose point of view should this sub-plot be from? Am I losing tension because of the shift in point of view?

Difficult questions you could easily do without.

Apart from being a training ground, the short story also acts as an extremely efficient means of not losing the ‘writing habit’. Ray Bradbury’s other important advice was to write one short story every week for at least a year. His point was it’s difficult to write 52 bad short stories. I for one totally agree.

I have a list of my favourite short stories it’s almost 250 now, Here’s a look at five from that list in no particular order and why I love them.

1. The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekhov

Chekhov is the master of the short story, known for drawing out the darker side of human emotions through his stories. The lottery ticket written more than a 100 years ago catches us in those moments of horrid selfishness, true today as they were then. It’s also a masterpiece in terms of building a story around a very small time frame.

2. The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

The ending of “The Necklace” no longer holds the surprise that must have been one of the draws when it was first published, but the message is still as profound. The effort to show off and fit into a higher class or income group results in a miserable outcome. It’s a classic example of the story structure of Exposition-Climax-Denouement.

3. The Last Leaf by O Henry

The Gift of the Magi is his most famous work, but The Last Leaf remains etched in memory years later. The self-pitying Johnsy , the supportive Sue serving her friend, and the ambitious but unfortunate artist Behrman. Characters created over the space of less than 1500 words that refuse to leave you.

4. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

A not so wise uncle had gifted me this book when I was seven, I thank him for it. This story will bring a smile to your face despite the macabre, a punishing of wrong and the burden of guilt expressed so succinctly in a matter of a few pages.

5. The Rocking Horse Winner by D H Lawrence

A touching story of a child’s desire to change his life and become “lucky”, this one is one of the most evocative pieces of writing that’s there.

The short story is easy to modify or if entirely unsalvageable, easy to ignore and move on. Give it a try, you won’t regret it.

Happy Writing

Anirban S. Bose

5Stories is a monthly digital only magazine. Every issue features 5 stories across various genres. 5Stories aims to be at the forefront of storytelling, pushing the boundaries while exploring the best and the most exciting short stories. Only original, previously unpublished short stories appear on 5Stories. 5Stories facilitates connections between emerging writers and global readers at large. Welcome to a fascinating read!

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5 thoughts on “The Short (Story) Road to the Novel

  1. Thank you for another easy-to-read posting mixed with incite. Though I admit I find the brevity itself to be a challenge. Yes, the reason the writing of such is a good discipline.
    The Last Leaf–I read it in high school literature some 50-odd years ago. And enjoyed it even then!

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  2. Absolutely. Writing short stories also helps you develop the patience to write an entire novel. Can you suggest any place where one can submit short stories, as i too am a short story writer.

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  3. Writing short stories is definitely good training for a novel. One of my short stories became a novella and from there a series was born. I’m on the fifth book at present, but I owe it all to a short story. Great post, thanks for the advice.

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