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Stephen King’s Advice: Writing Short Stories

So one of these days I’ll write a “real” post (I’ve got one planned for next week), but for today, I’ll redirect you to writer legend Stephen King. A couple weeks ago, Chris gave tips on writing flash fiction. Many (if not all) of the points he made for flash fiction, however, are applicable to any form of short story. As an editor of short stories for a small but growing speculative fiction magazine, I’ve learned a lot about what I want to readΒ just from having the privilege of reading the stories I receive there. But more importantly, it’s given me some insight on how I’d write them, too.

The short story is an art form. But it’s also essential to learning craft. I jumped into writing as a kid with images of a novel in my head, but as Stephen King mentions, back then I simply wasn’t ready to wade the novel “quagmire.” I still had a lot of writer-ly growing pains. It wasn’t until I wrote and completed my first short story in college that I began to see what it was I had been having problems with. The novel quagmire — though never easy — is easier than it used to be for me. And I think this is in large part because of the short story.

How do you feel about writing short stories? Do you read them?

8 thoughts on “Stephen King’s Advice: Writing Short Stories

  1. It’s really funny – I was sitting on the back porch with my wife last night, beer in hand, sharing with her an idea I have about publishing some of my short stories. She responded with, “You should write a book.” My response, “I’m not ready for that yet.”

    It’s funny that I should come across your offering of Stephen King’s interview the following morning. I don’t know if what I write is really a short story or not. I know it’s not a novel, and I don’t think it’s flash fiction. Whatever it is – I love writing it. I love the ability to focus short bursts of energy into developing characters, conflicts, and emotions – only to move on to a new setting or a new conflict after a couple thousand words. I like the variety, and I love – as a reader – being able to sit down and consume a well-crafted short story in one sitting.

    So, I guess you could say I read them, I write them (I think), and I love them πŸ™‚ Thanks Michelle, I always appreciate your posts!

    • Sounds like a pleasant evening!

      I think Chris has mentioned before that he writes flash fiction for a similar reason. Well he also claims he has a short attention span and therefore the flash fiction pieces work better for him. But he has also finished a novel.

      Flash fiction is typically defined as a story between 500-1000 words. Anything else is usually a ‘short story’.

      I’ve read your short stories that you post on your site. (I try to keep up with my reader, but I’m a huge slacker as of late.) I can see why the short story intrigues you. All this work with the short stories will pay off later, though, should you ever decide to try you hand at a novel. And you never know — you could be ready. Or maybe you just haven’t found an idea that speaks to you yet as ‘novel’ material. Or, even still, maybe you’ll be like Alice Munro: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/why-alice-munro-is-a-short-story-writer-not-a-novelist/280463/ .


  2. Some of my favorite writers are short story writers, and it was through short stories that I was first introduced to Garcia Marquez, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Peter Taylor, and others. The problem for me is that I haven’t written a short story in, quite literally, decades, although that’s not quite true since I wrote some flash fiction following Amanda and Chris’s prompts here on the Muse. To be honest, I’ve gotten the impression that it’s difficult to make much of a living writing short stories exclusively as the number of paying short fiction outlets has diminished over the decades (at least that’s my impression; I don’t actually know whether that’s true). But I love writing short stories when I did write them, and your post is not the first nudge I’ve gotten recently back in that direction. Thanks so much for the post.

    • My first experience with short story writers was the same. Hemingway, especially.

      It’s hard to say. These days, people seem willing to read more short stories, given their accessibility on [insert name of electronic device here]. So maybe that’s one form of growth for things like collections and anthologies (though one would have to be damn good at marketing themselves or an already household name to make any real money, I think). Want to read something on a lunch break? A short story fits nicely into that allotted time. But an exclusive living on short stories may be difficult, yes — much like trying to make a living on poetry.

      There are still some paying markets. The big name literary magazines like Glimmer Train come to mind. But those are one-time payments and are therefore not sustainable for the writer. I don’t know if outlets have diminished necessarily, but I do think the market is changing. For instance, Daily Science Fiction pays 8 cents a word for flash fiction pieces. They use an email-based model + a yearly print anthology. Tahoma Literary Review is a newer one that comes to mind. They are a hybrid journal and are very open about where the money goes. But money aside, publishing short stories can help with other things — getting one’s name out there, building up a following. All things future publishers look for when they consider taking on a potential author.

      Regardless, writing them is good practice. πŸ˜€ I’m glad it’s given you food for thought. I hope you’ll give it a go again.

  3. I just found your blog now when I searched up Stephen King’s advice on short stories and I also wrote a similar blog post about short stories too a few days ago πŸ™‚ I feel less confident about writing short stories than I do longer ones (although I enjoy writing short stories) but I’m beginning to really appreciate it as an art form, especially Stephen King’s short stories.

    • Hi! Thanks for dropping by and letting us know how you found your way to TSM. πŸ™‚ Always a pleasure to meet other writers!

      The shorter the story, the more concise it must be — all without losing its momentum or its focus on characters or plot. I definitely understand how you feel. I’ve always admired those who do it well. The first short story I ever wrote has been the single most educational piece I’ve written. I constantly learn something new from it — whether it’s how to submit (and get rejected) or refining my own craft or editing.

      Do you have any other short story writers you enjoy reading? I’m always on the lookout for new authors. πŸ™‚

      • Likewise πŸ™‚ I feel the same way about writing short stories, it really teaches you a lot about character, story structure and pace. It’s sort of a crash course in writing, I think lol. Right now, I’m learning how to properly format my short story for submission and I’m amazed at how much I didn’t know before about the submission process. I can’t think of any specific ones right now but I do enjoy reading short story writers from literary magazines.

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