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  • Writer's pictureS.E. Reed

Why You Should Write Short-Form Fiction (even if you’re a novelist)

Updated: May 22



Hey you. Novelist. Yeah, you… Are you writing anything outside of that 125k fantasy masterpiece? I realize it’s the story of your dreams and you’ve been dutifully plunking away at it for the last five years. But, I’m here to tell you that I 100% believe you should be writing non-novel stuff to improve your novel writing skills. Why is that? Well, as they say, variety is the spice of life. And there is no spicier way to rev your imagination than to write something new. I mean, you wouldn’t eat the same meal every day for five years would you? The same thing should go for your writing. Allow yourself the freedom to write something new every once in a while, and see where you go. 


Personally, I’ve had some success using short-form as a way to gain publishing credits and win contests. My favorite contests are NYC Midnight, Writing Battle and of course The Writer’s Workout Games. And as far as other places to show off your newly found short stories & poems, well, there are a ton of open calls… you just have to look. Off the top of my head, I know one Prom Perfect Anthology with Wild Ink Publishing that is looking for submissions (wink, wink). But there are hundreds, if not thousands of literary journals & publishers seeking subs in every genre imaginable. 


It’s up to you if you want to explore one or all of these short-forms of fiction. And remember, have fun! 


Poetry - I’m sure you already know what a poem is, but on the off chance you might be a little gray and fuzzy on the subject, I’ll explain… Poetry is a stylized form of emotion and expression. Poetry generally follows pretty stiff rules regarding meter, rhyme, scheme, verse and stanza. Unless of course you’re a rebel and like going free verse. Hats off to you.  


If you’re sticking to form, a Sonnet is a 14 line love poem (think Shakespeare) vs. a Haiku, which is a Japanese poetic form of three lines following a 5-7-5 syllable count. Other strict formats include: 


Villanelle - a nineteen line poem with a lot of other rules

Ode - a lyrical poem celebrating someone or something

Lymerick - those smug Irish bastards

Elegy - a poem lamenting the dead

Acrostic - some kind of clever letter crap 

(I never said I was a pro at poetry…)


If you’re going free verse, one of my favorite poets is e.e. Cummings. His words literally drip off a page. 


Micro Fiction - Teensy, tiny, itty, bitty stories. From drabbles to mini-sagas, micro fiction is typically less than two hundred and fifty words. They capture emotion like a poem, but use more standard prose formatting rather than poetic verse. There is something magical about the brevity of a micro story… the fluff words scrubbed out; powerful verbs and concise language in their place. Epic if done right. Down right annoying if done poorly. And be careful! Some open calls will ask for very specific types of micro-fiction. 


I’ve come across the following and want you to be prepared when you see it. 


Mini-Sagas aka Dribble: 50 words exactly, not including the title

Drabble: 100 words exactly, including title 

Twitterature or Twabble: up to 280 characters (not words, characters)

Six-Word stories: You guessed it, six words


Flash Fiction - No. Not like Flash the superhero. Actually, yes, just like the Flash! Flash fiction is a complete story in superspeed. You can go beyond the feelings and emotions in poetry and the punchy succinctness of micro-fiction. When you’re writing flash fiction, you have room for dialogue and descriptions. Hallelujah! General rule for flash is up to one thousand words. I love flash fiction because they are satisfying little morsels, kind of like eating a milk chocolate truffle. One is enough to make you smile, but two or three will curl your toes in ecstasy. 


Short Story - Okay folks. This is the category where all you novelists will most likely gravitate towards. A short story ranges from 1,000 to 6,000 words. These are those scenes in your head that you can’t quite figure out how to expand to make a full novel, but by God you love the characters. Plan on having a real beginning, middle and end. This is not a chapter from a book. This is not a micro or flash, leaving most of the story off the page and up to the reader to imagine. This is a stand alone beefy stew. Seriously, you need a fork to eat read a short story. 


When you aren’t working on your novel, you should be writing short stories. They can (and will in many cases) turn into longer features or novels for you as your brain develops the concept. They are pieces you can send to contests, anthologies, post on your author website and send out in your e-newsletters. Short stories can even be delicious little treats you send to your readers for pre-ordering your book. 


Short stories also allow you the freedom to write outside your advertised genre, letting you dabble in sci-fi or fantasy or to write in 3rd person POV or from the vantage point of the villain. There are no boundaries or restrictions when you write a short story. 


Novelette vs. Novella - A novelette/novella is a complete stand-alone story from start to finish and a creative way to add more to your current novel project, like a spin-off or prequel. I am combining them into one category, because the market place is a bit hazy when it comes to defining these. You’ll see there is some word count cross-over. 

Novelette 9k-19k

Novella 15k - 25k

If you happened to notice that I said short stories end around 6k and novelette/novellas begin at 9k, leaving a gap in the middle, you aren’t going blind. There is a black hole in the literary world. It is the 7-8k word count story. DON’T DO IT. They are typically too long for online literary journals and too short for publishers to call a novelette/novella. Even if you wrote something as compelling as Animal Farm or thought provoking as Metamorphosis you’ll be very hard pressed to find it a home if your goal is publication. In that case, go back and revise to smoosh it into a different category. 


 

Well, now that you know the various types of short-form fiction that’s out there, you have everything you need to start writing things that aren’t a novel. 


I wish you all the best! And I can’t wait to hear about your #WritingJourney so make sure to follow me on X or drop me a note in the comments. 


XO


S.E. Reed


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