If you write fiction, or want to try fiction, short stories are valuable. They’re fast to write, and you can use them in many ways to get readers and make sales.
For example, you might use a story to revive readers’ interest in one of your novels. Just as importantly, you might write short fiction to revive your interest.
When an author told me that he’d given up self-publishing, I wondered why because I knew that several of his novels sold well. “I can’t write,” he said. “I’ll write a paragraph or a few hundred words, then I lose interest.”
I asked what he was reading. Mainly nonfiction, he said, but he admitted that he also read “trashy thrillers.”
When you write fiction, pay attention to your reading
One man’s trash is another’s treasure; fiction is subjective. I asked whether he could write a “trashy thriller” short story.
He could, and did. I read it; it’s excellent. He published it, and now his short fiction outsells his novels.
Here’s a simple tip if you’re a new author: start your career with short stories, and aim to write a story in a single session.
It’s easy to lose your original inspiration when you’re writing fiction, especially a novel. Writing any novel is challenging. Some new authors manage a couple of thousand words or fewer, and then the novel dies.
You may be writing happily, getting the words onto the screen one day. The next day, you stare at the screen, wondering how you could write such gibberish: you’ve lost the original emotion. So start with short fiction, and remember the emotion.
Look at an initial rough draft as though it’s an extended outline. Unlike novels, short stories depend on a single idea, or emotion.
Emotion: to write fiction fast, start with a prompt
I love M.R. James’s story, Casting the Runes; it’s unsettling. Throughout the story, you get the feeling that something horrible is about to happen.
In any short story, if you can get the emotion right, your story will be successful.
Looking for a prompt? Try this one, from Create A Writing Habit: 90 Days Of Fiction Prompts:
A person wins a wonderful holiday to a glamorous destination. They must take a companion, and they must leave in 30 days.
And there’s a catch…
Create your own prompts, and keep them. When you’re searching for an idea, reread your old prompts. Most mornings, I wake up with ideas in my head. There’s no way I can write them all, but I keep them.
This morning, I scribbled:
If you asked what a close friend thought about Sara Kingston, she’d say that Sara was uncomplicated. Even a bit simple. Gullible, because she trusted her husband. But…
This story beginning went on for a few paragraphs, with a title idea as well. Will I write it? Maybe. What if Sara suddenly sees herself as others see her, and commits the perfect murder?
In the margin, I wrote RAGE, in block capitals—I want to be able to recall Sara’s emotion, even if I write the shortie next year.
Shorties are fun to write and they sell
I’m all about short fiction; short stories and serials. Of course, I write novels as well.
Funnily enough, sometimes a story takes off and I can’t rein it in. A few years ago, I wrote an entire series of novels based on a story for a ghostwriting client. He’s trying to get me to extend the series; at some stage, I might.
Remember your ideas; for fiction, make a note of the emotion you want to capture. And of course, have fun. 🤗
Your books aren't selling. You've done everything right, but you may have missed an essential element of bestselling fiction...
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.