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Why Write a Short Story?

Personal Chef A Short Story

Many of you know I’m working on a novel, so you might be surprised that I just finished a short story and published it on Amazon and other online outlets via Smashwords.

But I’ll bet some of you might be wondering why I’d break concentration on a novel and write a short story. Isn’t the novel going well?

Truth: The novel is humming along, but the story was screaming to be written. And I heeded the call.

Besides, short stories are fun. You can create an entirely new world peopled with interesting characters in far less time than it takes to write a novel.

The main idea behind “Personal Chef” had been lurking in my head for awhile: a character who (like me) hates to cook—or take time for it—and wishes she could just take a pill three times a day for all nutritional requirements. Wouldn’t life be easy!

Then I thought, Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a housekeeper do all the work? Cue Alice from The Brady Bunch.

After that, my imagination took off. What if that household help is a chef? A personal chef? And what if it’s a guy? And what if the woman is single? And what if the guy is really hot? Heh.

It stayed in my head like that for months, but it just got louder and louder. And then, in a local grocery store, gazing over all the vegetables and fruit and wondering what to make for dinner, a clerk asked me whether I needed something in particular.

“Yeah,” I said. “A personal chef.”

And I barely heard what he said because I suddenly knew I had the story. Sometimes all you need is a tiny spark to get something going.

A short story can be easier to write than a novel, but that’s not always true.

In a novel, you have room to spread out and get into all the gory details.  That can be a good thing, but it can also mean a lot of complications.

In a short story, everything’s condensed. It’s a lot like a novel as far as plot, theme, arc, conflict, and so on. But action, descriptions, and dialogue that could easily take a few chapters has to be condensed to a few paragraphs or skipped entirely. And that’s not necessarily easy.

I did, in fact, slash almost 2000 words from “Personal Chef” during editing. I could probably slash a few hundred more, but it gets tricky.

Ship it! I finally said. Stop being a perfectionist. And so far, feedback has been great.

Here are 5 great reasons to write a short story in the middle of writing a novel or any time.

1. Flesh out your novel’s main theme.

The theme in “Personal Chef” is somewhat similar to that of my novel—both feature a strong female main character in her mid or late 30s who meets a man younger than she is. It’s a social stereotype thing I’ve wondered about for years, ever since I heard that Céline Dion’s husband was 26 years older than she is. That’s generally accepted when the man is older, though it might raise a few eyebrows. When it’s a woman? Not so much.

But there the similarity ends. And although I’m not working with such drastic age differences, my male characters are younger, and it’s not something I’ve personally experienced beyond a few months or a couple of years. So it’s worth exploring and researching a bit.

2. Work within the same genre.

In my case, despite the differences and the lengths, both the short story and novel are contemporary romances. And I wanted to experiment in that genre but with something much shorter.

I’ve never seen myself as a romance writer—other short stories I’ve written concern rebellion/social uprising or paranormal and fantasy stuff.

But romance, well, been there and done that in real life, of course. So it’s natural for me to write about it. In the novel, some elements of action or adventure and danger are included, but in the short story, not so much.

And if you’re writing a sex scene(s) in your novel, it’s a good idea to get some practice. You don’t want to win the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, do you?

3. Write something fresh when your brain is aching from the complexities of the novel.

Pulling all the elements together for an 80-90,000 word novel is no easy task. And for me, it does seem like it’s dragging sometimes, though it’s only six months since I started it.

A short story has to be—obviously—shorter than a novel and relatively simple as far as structure goes. There’s no room in 3,000-7,500 words, say, for meandering sub-plots or more than one or two main characters. Even in a longer short story—which can run up to 30,000 words depending on the authority you consult—your space is limited. So it stays fairly simple by necessity. No guarantees on that though! They’re not always so simple though they might look it.

4. Grab the idea and run with it.

I’ve had the idea for “Personal Chef” for a long time, and it just started bugging me so much I couldn’t ignore it. And when I had the spark of inspiration in the grocery store as I mentioned above, I just had to write it.

If your Muse tells you to sit down and write something, or if you can see the story like it’s happening, write it, no matter what else is going on. And do something with it. Self-publish it, submit it to a contest, or send it with a query letter to a publisher that specializes in or welcomes short stories.

5. Enjoy the satisfaction of finishing something.

It definitely feels good to get something worthwhile finished while slogging through a long novel. I’ve written other short stories, but this one just called out to me. It’s like taking a break without being unproductive. And now I’ll go back to the novel with fresh eyes and new energy.

But I might turn this short story into a series. What happens next? Stay tuned.

Check it out. It’s available at Amazon and other online retailers like Smashwords. And if you enjoy it, please leave a review at the site! I’d really appreciate it.

UPDATE: This short story became a novel which you can read about here: Writing a Novel During NaNoWriMo.

Comments and questions are always welcome!

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23 comments… add one
  • Hi Leah,
    Thanks a ton for this post. It reminded me that it’s ages since I’ve written fiction.
    I read an article by Steven Barnes that the best way to hone your writing skills is to write and submit/publish a short story every week – he says this is the most effective way to master the disparate skills of prewriting, writing, rewriting and submission / publication.
    So that’s reason #6?
    Thanks again for being you.
    Rohi recently posted…Meditation and the Monkey MindMy Profile

    • Hi Rohi,

      You’re welcome! Why not do a little fiction writing then? Chuck Wendig does great flash fiction challenges:

      I definitely agree with Steven Barnes. Practice, practice, practice–all those things. And yes, that’s reason #6! You made me think of a few others, too. Probably should do another post on it (want to write a guest post?)

      Good to see you! And I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Thanks for the great article! I have written some short stories but have not had the courage to submit them anywhere. I have also found that they can sometimes be quite a bit harder to write and flesh out than the novel I’m working on! Great information. Thanks again!

    • Hi Pam!

      You’re welcome. And as Rohi said in his comment, it’s all about practice. Why don’t you gather up your courage and submit one or two? Edit and proofread like crazy, get a few friends to read and give their impressions, get feedback from a writer’s group if you belong to one, and go for it! I know it’s scary, though, especially at first (I’ve self-published other stuff a few times, so it wasn’t too bad with this.)

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented. Have a great day!

  • I have been struggling with maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. in school and writing my novel at the same time. My novel has taken a backseat, of course. I never considered writing a short story in the midst of it all. This is a great idea to keep the creative juices flowing! Thank you for the flash of insight. This was helpful in allowing me to continue to push forward.

    • Hi Christine,

      Wow, that’s tough on the time management, for sure. Great to have high standards for your grades, though! (I was in the A=Admirable and B=Borderline club too, so I understand 🙂 And sure, a short story won’t be nearly as time consuming, and it will keep you going creatively. Glad you got a push!

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Good Morning Leah. Up to this point all my writing has been technical in nature; publishing articles in peer reviewed medical journals. Every now and then I have thought the subject matter might have the makings for a good story. This article just gave me inspiration to take a technical article and turn it into a fictional short story. Thank you!

    • Hi Greg,

      That sounds interesting! Lots of creative writers have technical backgrounds like medicine or law and others. I’ve edited peer-reviewed medical articles, and I used to be a health writer (which mean loads of research, of course), so I can easily picture you doing that. In fact, I have a story in mind called “Last Dance at the Sphincter of Oddi” or “Revenge of the Sphincter of Oddi,” which is about a kid with a doctor dad who gave him that nickname (his real name is Odie, and if you’ve seen articles in gastroenterology, I’m sure you’ve heard of said sphincter :).

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Great tips, Leah, thank you. I’ve never been much for writing shorts, though I did enter a contest with one last year that I created from a “darling” I chopped from my novel-in-progress. I very much get the helpfulness of taking a break from a main project to refresh creativity. 🙂

    • Hi Susan,

      Thanks and you’re welcome! Great that you entered a contest. And creating a story from your “darling” is a great idea! I always save mine (my “extras” as I call them) just in case. Funny, in all the articles I’ve seen about “kill your darlings,” I don’t recall any mentions of recycling and re-purposing.

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Leah,
    Great article. I’ve recently been in a set of classes for novel writers that had one specifically about short stories as as way to hone your skills for writing novels. Perhaps great minds think alike? Love all your reasons. I used to search calls and set deadlines to submit. It was great practice and I got published a lot which helped my publishing list when I go to submit a query letter. What it did not help was finishing my novel. I think when we use it to hone our skills, it’s good. I think when we use it to avoid the novel, it’s not so good!
    Take good care and keep writing! Hope to see you soon!
    Ona, the hopeful she will read you soon as well!

    • Hi Ona,

      Great that you had a class specifically on short stories, and nice to hear that you’ve had some published! And you’re right; it doesn’t help to finish a novel except to potentially give you new insight on a theme or subject or something else in the “hone our skills” department. Thanks for your interest and good to see you!

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Hi Leah, I am a recent subscriber to Simple Writing. Reading has always been a hobby and I have enjoyed reading fiction and non-fiction books through my working career. I am now the taking time to reflect on things I am interested in and am reading your blogs with associated comments. I have never attempted to write fiction, although I would be perhaps be interested in writing for children some day. I know nothing about publishing.

    • Hi Vijaya,

      I recognize your name! Very glad to hear you’re a reader; it’s so important in learning to write. Children’s stories and books are very popular right now, from what I’ve read. I’ve also heard that it requires some special knowledge concerning the age bracket you’re writing for and styles of writing that children tend to enjoy.

      Why not give fiction writing of any kind a try? Do it for fun and experimentation, and who knows? You might really enjoy it.

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Leah,
    I liked this piece. It’ll be helpful.
    I write short stories and I’m almost enjoying it but for the lqck of knack to finish my stories. I find it hard giving my short stories an interesting end.

    • Hi Abraham,

      Thanks, and I’m glad it will be helpful! I agree; endings can be tough. Maybe, though, the end doesn’t have to be super interesting since it is the end, after all. And here’s a trick if you don’t already use it: if you come up with exactly the right ending, but it doesn’t really go with the story, maybe the story has to be changed a little. Maybe add a few details, events, action, or dialogue so the ending makes sense. It could even make the story better.

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Great post, Leah, and can’t wait to read “Personal Chef.” I especially like what you said in the email, that in a short story “You can’t explain every little thing…and leave it all up to your readers to make their impressions.” I never thought of it that way, and I appreciate the new insight. I also really like your 5 reasons — they are spot on.
    All the best,
    Deena recently posted…On Becoming a GrandmotherMy Profile

    • Hi Deena,

      Thanks, and great to see you. Glad this was useful to you! I think Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge” are good examples of telling hardly anything, yet the descriptions (especially in “Owl Creek”) are highly detailed. It takes a lot of thinking to unravel all the meanings beyond the surface (“Owl Creek” especially—you get to the end and it’s a big Wow or OMG).

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Great idea, Leah! I think writing a short story while writing your novel is good and can be useful to. It can draw you back into showing more than telling. I too find little comments from people or reading about something sparks something that I can use in my novel. As they say, to write well, read often, write often and be observant. Thanks for the great post.

    • Thanks Alma!

      We should have T-shirts that say “Warning: Anything you say or do might show up in a novel.” 🙂 And this is a great saying: “To write well, read often, write often and be observant.” Thanks for sharing that!

      I sent your free copy at the email address submitted when you commented.

  • Simple, clear and to the point. Definitely interesting -and inspiring too. Have to develop the habit of putting pen to paper when an idea strikes, instead of striving to get it all perfect in my mind first.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Grace,

      I agree: You don’t need to get things perfect at first. My short story, “Personal Chef,” went through many revisions. Most of it was my own editing, but for some of the really serious chopping and improving or fixing up confusing spots, I depended on my writing critique group and several friends who act as beta readers (they’re so good).

      Just tell the story! Then get down and dirty with the editing. 🙂

      I sent your free copy!

  • I think I may barrow the idea of a short story to help me with my major project series. i can use a short story to introduce the world and players and give people a taste of the kind of story they will be getting when the book finishes. Thank you for the idea.


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