4 Reasons Writing Short Stories Will Make You a Better Novelist

bestshortstorywriter4November is National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo), and it’s just around the corner. If you’ve never written a novel but you’ve always wanted to try, I highly recommend this incredible event as your moment to go for the glory. If you’re already planning to join the fun, I’ll see you there!

People prepare for the madness of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days in different ways. Whether you’re a planner or pantser, you can benefit from practicing during the next 5 weeks. And short stories are the perfect way to practice. You might be thinking that writing short stories will drain your creativity tank before you’re ready and that you need those ideas to make your novel work. But writing short stories adds more to your craft than it takes away.

Still not sure? Here are 4 reasons writing short stories will make you a better novelist right now.

  1. They’re less than novel length.
    It kind of goes without saying, but less than novel length is a point in favor of short stories. You don’t have to keep track of as many moving pieces, or fill as much blank space, or go into as much detail as you do with a novel. You can sit down and write a short story in a day. Can you do that with a novel?
  2. They’ll inform your novel-writing process.
    You learn a lot from carrying a story from start to finish. Making sure all your series or story arcs or character arcs round out the way they should and with the correct timing can be really challenging with a full-length novel. A short story gives you all the elements of story telling in a snapshot form that’s easier to manage.
  3. They give you a chance to focus on just one thing.
    Because short stories are, well, short, you don’t have time to add too many elements to them. So you can choose to work on a plot element you’ve been wanting to experiment with, or a character sketch, or your world-building, without getting distracted.
  4. You get to write “The End” sooner.
    Never underestimate the power of completing a project. The emotional and mental payoff you get from writing “The End” gives you motivation to move on to the next project. And, most importantly, once you’ve written “The End” there’s nothing holding you back from putting your story out into the world to get feedback so that you can start the whole process over again and write an even better story.

Sometimes writing a story set in the world of your novel but with a side character can enhance the main manuscript. But not every idea is a novel-length idea. Give those other ideas room to grow and see what happens. The more stories you write, the more ideas you will have. Short stories, far from taking away from your creative potential, only add fuel to the fire.

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3 Reasons to Skip Writing Lengthy Character Description

DursleysWhen you’re writing a novel, it can be tempting to take a paragraph to describe every tiny last detail of how character looks. After all, you’ve spent so much time imagining your character and what he’s doing that you can see him vividly, even down to the brand of jeans he’s wearing.

But let’s talk about why you might not want to describe your character to the last detail.

  1. It’s boring
    If you spend a paragraph, or maybe more, describing your character’s look and fashion choices, you could risk your readers skipping ahead to reach the dialogue or the action–you know–the good stuff.
  2. It leaves no room for the reader’s imagination
    Part of the reader’s experience of your story is picturing it as it happens. This includes what the characters look like. Don’t be too quick to control what the reader gets to imagine.
  3. It’s probably not the most important detail you should be focusing on
    Usually character descriptions come at the beginning of the novel in an attempt to tell us what our character is like based on his (or her) appearance instead of showing us his (or her) character in action. Give your character something to do and sprinkle in bits of description where necessary.

And now I’m going to use examples from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, of course, because I think J.K. Rowling models this practice excellently (as per usual).

[Mr. Dursley] was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors.

One sentence for each character, and we have what we need to know. We learn a little later that Mr. Dursley wears boring ties and that Mrs. Dursley has a shrill voice, but those details come in the moment, as needed, not all in a clump at the beginning. Especially if the characters you are describing are minor characters, there’s little to no need to get more detailed than this. The reader is perfectly capable of filling in the rest.

A lot of times, writers try to shove the details of their main character onto the reader at the beginning of the story because it’s something that they feel the need to get out of the way and then they never return to it again. Instead of spending a paragraph writing description that your readers are willing and able to fill in for themselves, choose details that will reveal something important about the character or that makes him different from other characters.

harry_potter_grows_01And now an exception to the rule. When introducing the main character, Harry, Rowling uses almost a paragraph to tell us what he looks like, but as you’ll recognize if you’ve read book before, nearly all of his features–from the color of his eyes to the scar on his forehead–end up having some significant role in the story, in the entire series, even.

Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley’s, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tap because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning. He had had it as long as he could remember, and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had gotten it.

The skinny smallness and the baggy clothes tell us Harry’s aunt and uncle neglect him. The eyes are his mother’s, as he hears over and over once he’s around people who knew her. The broken and taped glasses reinforce the neglect and show the bullying nature of Harry’s and Dudley’s relationship. And the scar is PIVOTAL in the entire series.

Again, it comes down to the details. If your character’s appearance is important enough to spend words on in the first place, use it to your advantage. Use it to paint more than just a picture. Use it to tell your story. Use it to make your characters come alive.

Writing Tips: How Daily Practice Builds Your Writing Habit

Daily writing practice

These days, more than a few websites and blogs and social media posts offer you advice on how to finish your novel, easy hacks to getting published, ways to get inspired. And all of that advice can add up to success or to failure depending on how you implement it and what actually works for you.

But if there’s one thing I’m certain on, no matter what other advice you receive, know this: Writers Write.

The only way to be a writer is to write. Consistently. Not just that one time, not just someday when you have time. Sit down and write. Fifteen minutes. Right now. Go on. I’ll wait.

If you need, you can find a writing prompt somewhere out there on the internet. Or just pick an object on your desk and spend 500 words describing it (ouch… that’s such a painful exercise if you’ve never tried it).

Now, not everyone can write every day consistently, because … LIFE! But you can surely find two weeks to a month to set yourself a challenge of writing every day and here’s why it’s a good idea. If you write for fifteen minutes a day for 14-30 days, you will certainly begin building your writing habit. You’ll get used to sitting down and cranking out the words for fifteen minutes or whatever your set goal is. You’ll begin forming muscle memory and rewiring those synapses from their resistant, at-rest state to a state of readiness and ability.

Writing a little every day will give you the confidence that you CAN sit down and write whenever you want to. And then when your temporary challenge is up you’ll be able to set yourself realistic goals. Maybe in real life you only write a few times a week for longer periods. Or maybe five days a week instead of seven. Whatever works for you works for you, as long as you’re still writing! As long as you don’t let the time slip by you and allow your brain to go back to that state of rest where it’s hard to get motivated again.

Writers write. The more you write, the more you will find you are able to write. The more you write, the stronger your ability will become. So sit down and write. Write write write! You’ll never be sorry that you tried.