When I first started writing I tried to write a novel, but soon realised I was running before I had even learnt how to walk. Like most new writers I thought to be a real writer one must write a novel.
Since I’ve joined several Facebook groups I have seen the same question being asked repeatedly by new writers. How do I write a novel? It’s as though writing a novel and writing a story is two different things. Where in fact a novel is the grown up version of a short story. Just think about for a moment. Flash Fiction, short story, novelette, novella and novel are all means of telling a story the only difference is their length.
On average a short story word count ranges from 1,000 to 10k. Flash Fiction is anything under 1,000. sometimes submission call-out ask for 500 or less words. Writing a story will give you all the skills to tackle a larger project. To write a short story you need to have a brilliant hook at the beginning, a strong middle and an ending that ties everything together and gives a reader a satisfying conclusion. Your writing needs to flow, be engaging and have interesting characters, in fact everything you’ll find in a novel. The only difference between stories and novels is the lack of freedom in developing your characters, setting or plot line. In short stories every word has to have earned its right to be there.
After short stories comes novelette. These stories are between 7.5k & 17k words. Next we have what is known as pocket novels, the novella. A novella is piece of fiction that sits comfortably between a short story and a novel. These can be anything between 10k to 40k words in length.
Novels are broken up into difference lengths according to their genre.
- Thrillers/ Horror/ Mysteries: 70k to 90k
- Science Fiction & Fantasy : 90k to 120K are longer because the authors needs the time to create new worlds in which their plots takes place.
- Historical Fiction: 100k needs to flesh out imagined historical world.
- Romance: 50k & 90k as these are stories about two people coming together the word count is much shorter
Many major authors have published novellas.
- Ernest Hemingway : The Old Man & The Sea
- Doris Lessing: The Fifth Child
- Neil Gaiman : Coraline
- Stephen King : The Mist
- George Orwell : Animal Farm
The list is endless. Goodreads has listed 588 world’s greatest novellas. I’m sure most established authors have enjoyed writing shorter pieces to flex their writing muscle and help clear their mind between writing books.
Writing short stories gives you the opportunity to learn the skills needed to condense a story into a limited number of words, the same skill needed for writing a synopsis. Another important skill you need as a writer is editing your own work. Editing is what takes a mundane story and turns it into a masterpiece. The more editing you can do for yourself increases your chance for finding a publisher for your novel, as well as saving yourself money too. Paying for an editor isn’t cheap, so the more work you can do for yourself the better. You won’t spot every typo or a weak plot etc. as writers we are too close to our own work, and we do need a second pair of eyes. The cleaner your MS the less work for the agent or publisher.
I’ve found while mastering short stories my editing skills have improved. Once I knew what to look out for in my short stories I tend to keep an eye out for the same mistakes while writing my novels. Things like repeating the same words. Starting too many sentences with the same set of words. Finding areas where you’re repeating the same information to your reader, information dumping. Are sentences too long? Can they be cut from 12 words to a nine and make the sentence stronger?
Another wonderful thing about mastering the skills by writing short stories is finding plenty of competitions and call-out where you can submit them. The more work you have published the better chance you have at securing a publisher or agent for your novel. Both my novella and novel started life as a short story. The novel Stone Angels was born out of an entry to a writing competition. The story, Roofscapes was the overall winner in the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival/ Writing Magazine Short Crime Story Writing competition. The Funeral Birds novella started life as an entry to the BBC short story competition which it didn’t win, but my friend Joan loved the story so I had an idea to turn it into a novel. When the chance came to send it to a publisher, I increased the word count and submitted it. And the rest is history.
Short stories are the way forward to bigger things.