Using short stories as a novelist


Short stories are, I feel, an underappreciated tool available to novelists. Not only can writing short form fiction offer a refreshing change of pace but they can be used to both earn money and promote yourself as an author.

Here are some of the surprising applications of short stories to novel creation and promotion.

Short stories as a form of preparation

World Building

One use I make of short form fiction is world building. I find that by exploring a setting (either in your world’s history or its present day) can help bring the setting to life.

Short stories are the perfect sandbox for world building and the discipline of character limits can force you to identify the key details that you will later use in your novel.

While it is true that some of my worldbuilding shorts are not of what I might call “production quality”, they help me and that is important too.

Character Discovery

Similar to world building, letting a character have some time on the stage prior to the main story helps to bring them to life. I have even found I learned things about my character that shaped the main plot.

It is not lost on me that this is a use of short stories that has even more value with secondary characters and villains. Allowing a henchman or other antagonist to have something of a sympathetic moment, simply makes for richer preparation and storytelling.

Beating writer’s block

Writer’s block can be deeply frustrating. In fact several of the tips that I listed for overcoming writer’s block (for Thanet Creative) amount to writing shorter pieces. The simple act of crafting a shorter piece and finishing it can get the creative juices flowing again. Sometimes because the tangent helps you find new ideas and sometimes because it gets you into the zone.

If it works, don’t knock it.

Test marketing

This preparation for of short story writing probably applies more to new authors than seasoned veterans. Simply crafting a short story with your characters and setting and then getting it published can be a great test case for the lager novel project.

At the very least, if you get solid feedback from some tame Beta Readers then the exercise is probably worth it.

Getting your name out there

Earning some money

Aside from the creative act of writing the short form fiction, there may be money to be made from selling it too. After all, if you are using it for test marketing, you could generate a whole secondary income stream from the shorts. We writers don’t earn much anyway so, as they say, every little helps.

Getting an agent

While you are test marketing, earning some secondary income, and building ideas, your short stories could also be building up a reputation. It is probably safe to say that few writers earn a living from selling short fiction to magazines but building a collection of titles to brag about may make getting an agent that much easier.

I’m not promising you the world but surely an agent would be more interested in an author with a bunch of acceptances tucked away already.

Building a following for your novel series.

It is a fact that we writers must acknowledge that readers tend to stick with writers and settings that they know. An obvious way around that is to build up an awareness of your setting and characters. Short stories on your blog or in magazines can do that for you. By getting short stories with those settings and characters into the hands of willing readers, you are laying the groundwork for your success.

One of the ways that Disney created a success with Winnie the Pooh was to craft a series of shorts and establish the character in the hearts of children (and adults) prior to releasing a feature film. If it was good enough for them, it may well be good enough for us too.


About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.

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