Why Novelists Should Write Short Stories, Part II


By Julie Tyler

A couple of months ago, I wrote about why novelists ought to write short storiesWhy? ‘Cause writing stories raises our awareness of genre, holds us to a strict economy of words, and teaches us to introduce narrative tension fast.

All of these lessons will definitely make you a better novelist. But I also believe that short stories can do a lot of good work out there in the world, in and of themselves.
So let’s say you took my advice and wrote a short story as part of your efforts to become a better novelist. Congrats! Wasn’t it fun to write short fiction?
But now what?
Rather than letting your short story lay idle in your files, give it a darn good life in the real world by taking one of these 5 courses of action:

#1 – Publish it.

The obvious thing to do with your finished story is to seek publication in a literary journal. You’ll gain a readership, establish a relationship with journal editors, and have more clout when it comes time to pitch your novel to literary agents and editors.
To begin the process of finding a journal, research online and make a list of journals that your story would be appropriate for. Make sure you fully understand the journals’ submission guidelines, deadlines, and what type of work they’re looking for before you send in your manuscript. You don’t want to waste time (and submission fees) sending your fabulous story to the wrong journals.

#2 – Compile a story collection. 

If you find you really like writing in this genre, write a series of stories that you can compile into a collection. I’m usually of the opinion that short story collections make more of an impact on readers when the stories are connected to each other in some way. In some collections, the connection between stories is so powerful that we can classify the collections as novels.

For example, each story in Junot Diaz’s Drown collection explores the experiences of Latinx characters. Many of them are told by the same narrator, Yunior, who also narrates the bulk of Diaz’s Pulitzer-winning novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Just think of the possibilities for your short story collection! Maybe your stories are connected by setting or theme, such as love stories set in Paris, or crime thrillers set in rural Idaho. Maybe they are stories about a single family or community, told by members from different generations, like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.

It’s important to note that if you’re a debut author, traditional publishers typically prefer that your first book be a novel. Many authors publish collections successfully once they’ve established themselves as novelists.


#3 – Promote your work.

Once your story or story collection is published, reach out to your English teacher friends and ask them to add it to their course reading list. Plenty of educators at the junior high, high school, and college levels would probably love to feature your story in classroom discussions and assignments. You could even be invited to schools as a guest speaker. Imagine the impact you could make on young minds!

And as with anything you want to promote, use social media platforms to get the word out about your story.


#4 – Adapt it to a screenplay.

Screenwriting is loads of fun, as I discovered in grad school. My first attempt at screenwriting involved adapting Junot Diaz’s short story “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars” to a script. (Can you tell Diaz is one of my favorite authors?)

Before I took the screenwriting class, I thought the best adaptations were of novels. Indeed, many of them are. But the screenwriting class taught me that many successful screenwriters have adapted short stories to films that went on to become famous.

Ang Lee’s wildly successful film Brokeback Mountain (2005) was adapted from Annie Proulx’s short story by the same name (1997). Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn, was adapted from Truman Capote’s novella by the same name (1958). Do you remember Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990)? That movie was adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1966 story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

And if you think about it, it makes sense to adapt short fiction to film, because you’d be expanding the story to fill up two hours of film time, rather than cutting material from a three-hundred-page novel to fit two hours and still maintain coherence. 

Of course, once you’ve got a solid screenplay draft, you can think about connecting with local actors and filmmakers who are on the lookout for promising new scripts.  

#5 – Perform it live. 

Most of us think of stories and novels as sit-down-and-read-silently kind of material, but narrative prose, when written with its aural qualities in mind, can be wonderful material for presenting live.

But who can you find to be your audience, besides your significant other, best friend, or your lazy cat?

Most mid-sized and large cities have a literary scene that puts on events and performances on a regular basis. Ask Mister Google to put you in touch with folks who organize these events or who are performing their own work. Attend a few events, such as a rowdy poetry slam or a quiet reading, to see how you can prepare your own performance. One thing about sharing your work live: it pressures you to tell a story with high stakes and an exciting climax, because you’ll see, up close and personal, whether your audience was entertained.

For example, down here in Miami, I memorized and performed two stories in front of an audience–one at the Miami Book Fair and the other through The Field, a global arts program. Both experiences were challenging, but I walked away with a new set of storytelling skills.

Or, if you’ve already  built your writing community, recruit members of your group to help you put on a new literary performance event in your city!

Is your story ready for life in the real world?

Start brainstorming the possibilities now and laying a path for your story’s journey. And as always, reach out to us with comments, questions, and updates on how your writing projects are going!

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