So, this is the post where I’m all self-indulgent and talk about my own writing.  Today, I would like to talk about the benefits of writing short fiction, even if your goal is to get a book published.

After I finished that first abysmal manuscript, but before I knew how awful it was, I joined a writing group.  Everyone said that you should if you want to learn about writing.  And there was an active one right here in my city not a half-hour from my house.  Plus, I was hungry to talk about writing with other writers, so why not?

The good news was that they were welcoming and accepting and quite a few of them pretty darn successful.  Even the ones who didn’t have a list of writing credits wrote a fantastic critique.  The bad news is that they mostly submitted short fiction.  Like short stories.  Flash fiction.  I hadn’t written something that intended to conclude in under 60,000 words ever.  I was really intimidated by short fiction because it didn’t seem like I could even get started in under 5,000 words.

Since they knew a heck of a lot more about short fiction than I did, I tried to pay attention to the stories they raved about and the websites they mentioned.  And I came to one very interesting conclusion: writing a short story is a lot like writing a chapter.

Sure, a short story ends at a conclusion while a chapter usually ends with a hand-off to the next chapter.  But there’s a similar rise and fall.  Movement is created in the same way.  Pacing works in a similar fashion.  One of my fellow long-fiction writers pointed out that short fiction forces you to focus faster.  Things have to get going right away and keep moving.

That’s true of long fiction, too.  And that was a good lesson for me to learn.

Just because a manuscript is long, doesn’t mean you have any throw-away space.  When people talk about tight writing, they don’t just mean wordiness.  They also mean pointless scenes.  Scenes that might be great writing but just don’t further the plot.  In other words they don’t need to be there and they should get yanked out in revision.  When I look at a published book, I’ve started looking for scenes that don’t need to be there.  I almost never find them.  Usually, they tie into later scenes, foreshadow later action, reveal vital character traits, or let the reader know essential information.  In other words, they add.

So as someone who doesn’t feel like my strength is in short fiction, I’m going to suggest that if you write, at least take a stab at short fiction and see if it effects how you write long pieces.  I was shocked, I tell you.  Shocked.

How about you?  Do you write outside of your comfort zone?

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