In the midst of working on our next novel (book 2 in The Providence Series), my co-author and I hit a stumbling block. To put it in other words — the entire concept needed a major overhaul.

The story line had hit a roadblock, the main character wasn’t the right person for the position — you get the idea. Some stories are easy to tell, others not so much. After picking away at the problems for a couple of weeks there came a point when I needed to step away for a bit so I could come back at it with a clear head.

Sometimes you just need to take a break.

This is when I discovered a weekly writing prompt contest that was shared by a friend on Facebook. So I thought, why not give it a go? I was taking a break from the novel, and writing short stories was something I had been wanting to make more time for anyway, and these prompts were the perfect catalyst for getting started.

Plus, writing short stories has many benefits, from helping us to write tighter and stronger narratives to discovering more about our characters, improving dialogue, and so on.

Below I’ve shared just a few of the ways short stories help us become better and more effective novelists, and writers overall.

1 | Get to Know Our Characters Better

What I love about short stories is that we can write about characters in our current published novels and characters in our works or ideas in progress. We can share glimpses, or snapshots, of their lives that don’t make it into the full-length books. This gives our readers something extra to experience with the characters they love, but also helps us to get to know our characters better, which is especially important when writing in a series.

We can use short stories to test how our characters respond in different situations, and they also offer the opportunity for us to sort through the finer details of our characters’ personalities, habits, etc.

2 | Hone Our Writing Skills

Writing short stories can help us learn how to write tighter and stronger narratives. Because we have a limited amount of words to work with in a short story, we have less room to flesh out ideas. This means that every. word. counts. If it doesn’t engage the reader or move the story forward, we need to cut it.

Staying within such tight confines will in turn help us to write more concise sentences, paragraphs, and in turn better overall stories, and these skills will carry over to our novel writing.

3 | Identify the Best Place to Begin

A common problem that we run into as novelists is knowing when the story truly begins, and figuring this out isn’t always as easy it might sound.

We need to open our stories where the adventure truly begins. And we definitely should avoid pre-loading the reader with a bunch of backstory. Because a short story requires us to get to the point quickly, we become better able to identify where to start. And writing short stories gives us ample opportunity to practice this skill.

4 | Improve Editing Skills

Editing is a critical part of the writing process. Big picture editing can be intimidating when facing an entire novel, but when working on a short story, the process is much more manageable. Editing our short stories provides us with an opportunity to develop a system that works best for us that we can then apply to a full-length project.

Writing short stories also forces us to cut words and sentences that are unnecessary and learn how to tighten sentences and paragraphs so that every word moves the story forward. And in this process we’ll be training ourselves to leave out the extraneous content in the first place.

5 | Opportunity

So now that we have all these short stories, what do we do with them? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Consider turning one of the short stories or a series of short stories into a novel.
  • Compile a book of short stories.
  • Submit a short story to a writing contest.

In summary, writing short stories can help us become better novelists, and better writers overall.

Now it’s your turn to write a short story!

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Use a writing prompt. If you don’t have an idea, consider a writing prompt to get you started.
  2. Dive into the action quickly. Make sure your story begins when the adventure begins.
  3. Don’t take a lot of time to plan. Use the prompt or write a one-sentence summary and go for it!
  4. Write before you edit. Don’t stop to edit as you’re writing. Get the entire story down, then you can go back and fine-tune it.
  5. Don’t worry about word count while you’re writing. It’s better to edit the story down than to try to stay within the confines of a word count.
  6. Edit and proofread. Once your story is done — with a beginning, middle and end — you can begin the editing process.