Guest Post – Rabia Gale on Writing Short Stories

Rabia Gale breaks fairy tales and fuses science fiction and fantasy. She recently published Shattered: Broken Fairy Tales, a collection of three short stories. A native of Pakistan, she currently resides in Northern Virginia. Visit her online at http://www.rabiagale.com.

Why I Write Short Stories

 by Rabia Gale

As a new writer, I wrote short stories only as practice for greater things, like the long, complicated novels that were my first love. Now, though, I write short stories because I’ve grown to love them for their own sake.


The instant gratification factor of short stories is a big attraction. After spending months laboring over a first draft or a brutal revision, it’s nice to write a complete story in a few sessions. That’s not to say that some short stories don’t simmer in my backbrain for a while before I commit them to paper. Because a short story doesn’t have a lot of wiggle-room for extraneous words, I mentally try and discard many different approaches to my story idea before hitting upon the right one. Months, or even years, can pass between that first flicker of a short story premise and when I actually write it.

I am more willing to experiment with a short story. Sometimes that takes the form of writing outside my preferred genres. Or I can write in an unusual point-of-view or tense (such as second person and present tense). Short stories also give me the opportunity to share headspace with an unlikeable protagonist. All these would be difficult to sustain over the course of a novel, but are intriguing novelties in a short story.

Sometimes I have ideas that are too small for novels. These tightly-focused ideas would become diluted and dulled in the tens of thousands of words in a novel. Or perhaps there is one moment that I want to build up to, or one particular emotional response I want to evoke in my reader. Occasionally—though humor is not my forte—I have a punchline I want to showcase. In these cases, I turn to the short story form as the best vehicle for my idea.

I also pay greater attention to my prose when writing short stories. In a novel, I am forgiven a less-than-stellar sentence or two, as long as the story is exciting and the writing competent. In a short story, every sentence needs to do an exceptional job. Short stories help me hone my writing style.

Do you read or write short stories? What do you like about them?

13 thoughts on “Guest Post – Rabia Gale on Writing Short Stories”

  1. I love writing short stories for all the reasons you have suggested, and feel like I’ve learned a lot more through the give-and-take of getting a series of short stories ready for publication than I would have if I’d spent the same amount of time working on a longer piece.
    Thanks!

    1. I had a lot of fun putting together my own collection of short stories. There were a lot of things I had to think about that normally an editor would take care, like a title for the anthology, ordering the stories, coming up with a blurb. Tell me more about your short stories.

  2. I love ideas that are all different sizes, and I find that short stories are able to contain all sorts of incidents in my characters’ lives that I always wanted to write, but that were neither novel-length nor a good fit to include in a novel-in-progress.

    Short stories are a good way for me to deal with darker moments in my characters’ lives without having room to wallow in the darkness.

    They are a good exercise for me in expressing precisely what I want at whatever length I have to do it. They are also a good place to practice fleshing out and writing longer scenes. I still have a knack for 400 words or less on average per scene, but before I used short stories this way, my scenes average 330. No joke.

    I love reading short stories also, so it stands to reason, I would eventually start writing them. The more we inhale a given medium, the more likely we are to start outputting it.

    Short stories also give me room to explore one single meaning or aspect of worldbuilding, one set of consequences, one single viewpoint in greater detail than I would give it in a novel. A novel has to weave together more threads than a short story. I wouldn’t write a novel about what does it mean to be a rothnen hunter in Vardin. I would indeed write a short story about it.

    I could probably go on, but I’ll stop there. :grins:

    1. Short stories also give me room to explore one single meaning or aspect of worldbuilding, one set of consequences, one single viewpoint in greater detail than I would give it in a novel.

      Oh, yes. I love how you can focus on just one shining thread in a short story; a thread that would be unnoticed in the tapestry of a novel.

  3. As a reader, I enjoy short stories, novellas, and novels, each in their own way. {Smile}

    As a writer, short stories seem to be the natural length for me. Most stories I write find a conclusion in under 9000 words in the rough draft. (Some find it in much less; my shortest stories’ rough drafts have just under 300 words.) These stories can get terribly stuck, but many don’t. They often flow fairly steadily right up to the conclusion.

    In contrast, I haven’t tackled a longer story that wasn’t quite a struggle. Most seem to grind to a halt before they’re done. I managed to finish one that was over 10,000 words long, and I’m close to completing a second, but neither have been easy. They got stuck more than once, sometimes pretty badly. I hope I’m getting better at them, but I’ve yet to see one flow as easily as my shorter stories often do. {smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. Isn’t it funny how we each have a natural story length? Mine is definitely the novel length, but on the shorter side (for SFF), between 90K-105K.

      1. Yeah, I’ve puzzled over natural story lengths. A lot of folks seem to expect me to be working on a novel… well, that’s not very likely. I can write a series of short stories about the same characters, but they’re still short stories. {Smile}

        Actually, 90-K to 105K might be a pretty good length when you’re getting established. I looked into this a few years ago. I didn’t factor in age (Juvenile, young adult, and adult), so that could make a difference. Anyway, most publishers in science fiction and fantasy seemed to accept 75K-100K in open admissions. Many went down to 60K, and many up to 120k. Several went higher or lower – some even started higher or finished lower – but those seemed to be the sweetest and fairly sweet zones. Your natural length is right in there. {Smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

      2. P.S.

        I checked enough to realize the numbers have changed since I figured out the “sweet and sweetest zones,” but I don’t know by how much. I’ll have to look around further. Still, I don’t think you’re out of them entirely. {Smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

        1. No, I think I’m in the right range for my genre. I do sometimes wish I could write those fat, meaty, epic fantasies, though. 🙂

          1. I thought so. I notice several calling for over 70K, and several calling for under 130K. There seems to be a break at 100K, but some want more than that, and some want less. So you’re still right in the range. {Smile}

            I envy those meaty epics too, sometimes. Not that I want to write them all the time, but I wouldn’t mind having that length in my repertoire. {BIG SMILE}

            Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  4. I love reading short stories, and I envy people who can write them. I’ve tried my hand at it a time or two, but most of my short stories grow into novellas.

    1. The rise of e-books is giving novellas a new breath of life. I didn’t use to like novellas, but I’m learning to appreciate them now. They’re perfect for when you want a meatier-than-a-short story that you can read in an evening before bed.

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