Short stories seem to be going to same way as cursive and hand written letters. They used to be the staple for famous authors and authors struggling to make a living. Ernest Hemingway wrote quite a few short stories, as did Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jack London, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Today, however, short stories are scarce. Some authors still write short stories, authors like Stephen King, Daphne Du Maurier, and Melina Marchetta, but short stories are no longer the rite of passage that they used to be.
I still believe that short stories have value, both to writers and to readers. Here are a few reasons why short stories are beneficial.
1. Short stories teach writers how to structure plot.
Short stories are short, much shorter than novels. They’re a way for writers to practice structuring a plot in an engaging way. Like any story, short stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. However, because they are shorter than novels, it is easier to look at the story as a whole. Writers can work on setting the scene, building to a climax, and wrapping up the story.
2. Short stories teach writers to write with a purpose.
Short stories always have a purpose, some kind of message or theme. If a short story doesn’t have a clear theme, then it’s just a misplaced piece of writing. It’s a scene without a novel. According to the theme of Stephen King’s story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” short stories teach writers to get busy living or get busy dying. Short stories make a point quickly or they’re just bad writing.
3. When it comes down to it, short stories are practice for everything.
Plots, characters, themes, style—short stories are good practice for all of those things. They also provide the satisfaction of finishing a story. It is difficult to finish a 50,000-100,000 word novel, but a 2,000 short story is very doable for new writers. It’s an opportunity to practice the trade. And when you’ve mastered the short story, you can move on to write longer stories.
As I mentioned in no. 2 earlier, short stories always have a theme or message. Sometimes it’s obvious, but often times the message is tucked away in the prose, similar to themes in poetry. Short stories can be a challenge to read because they make the reader work for it. But the read worth the effort, and short stories are good practice for readers to look beyond the surface for deeper themes hidden within good writing.
Some times, a reader doesn’t have time to sit down and read Crime and Punishment (though you should read this book at some point in your life). Short stories offer the enjoyment of reading without requiring as much time to get through the entire story.
Some of my favorite short stories are “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiement” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, “To Build A Fire” by Jack London, and “The Body” by Stephen King (which was made into the excellent film Stand By Me). I think short stories are a great form of literature, and it’s a shame they are no longer a common practice. They are valuable to both readers and writers, and I wish writers would still take time to experiment with them! As both a writer and a reader, sometimes a good short story is just the boost I need.
Check out “How Do I Love Thee” to read a short story I wrote.