Tuesday, May 27, 2014

4 Reasons to Write Short Stories

By Stefan Bachmann, @Stefan_Bachmann

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Please help me welcome Stefan Bachmann to the site today to share why you should write that short story idea that's bouncing around in your head.

Stefan was born in Colorado, and now lives in an old house outside of Zürich. His debut, The Peculiar was a New York Times Editor's Choice as well as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012, and was translated into eight languages. Its companion The Whatnot was released in September, 2013.

His newest book The Cabinet of Curiosities, a collection of scary stories he wrote together with authors Emma Trevayne, Claire Legrand and Katherine Catmull, will be released on May 27th, 2014, from Greenwillow/HarperCollins.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

Take it away Stefan...

Back in 2012, I became friends with a sparkly rainbow unicorn avi on Twitter who turned out to be Emma Trevayne, author of several YA books and the just-recently-released steampunk middle grade Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times. I was like, “I love clockwork birds!” and she was like, “ME TOO!” and thus we became each other’s beta readers.

Fast forward a few months and Emma asked me, Katherine Catmull (Summer and Bird) and Claire Legrand (The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls) if we wanted to join a project she had thought up: we would each write one creepy/sinister/fantastical short story per month, one of us posting every week, just as a fun side-thing in order to stay sane while we edited our solo books. The project was called The Cabinet of Curiosities, and Emma had devised a backstory where we were curators of a magical collection of stories, and we had personas, and little fake bios. We didn't really know what would come of it. We definitely didn't expect anything. And then out of the blue my editor at Greenwillow/HarperCollins said she wanted to publish our stories in an anthology and. . . it was happy day in our curiosity cabinet, let me tell you.

In this post (thanks, Janice for having me here!) I wanted to put down a few reasons to write short fiction, because I think it's sometimes overlooked, and especially for writers it can be a valuable thing to try out, even if it doesn't end up being your preferred method of storytelling.

Here's why:

1. It teaches conciseness

For me, just sitting down with the intention to write a short story makes me write differently. I'm much more aware of every sentence, how it fits together with other sentences to build a mood, and how little space I have to establish character or plot. I know I have to keep it short, and everything that can go, must.

I'm fairly convinced that conciseness is the greatest skill you can learn in writing. It keeps the prose clear, and it keeps the plot moving, and it doesn't have to mean that everything becomes spare or bare-bones. All it means is that the words are used to reach a goal, and none are wasted. I'm in awe of writers who can say a lot with only a few words. I'm in awe of writers who can really get to the heart of what they're trying to say, and can express profound or complex ideas in a single sentence. And I think writing short stories can make you to re-evaluate how you use words and make you quite brutal about killing your story-darlings, which is almost always a good thing.

2. You can use up random ideas that don't fit into books

Sometimes I think of a line or a character that doesn't fit into what I'm currently working on at all, and yet I'm still excited about it and want to use it somehow. In The Cabinet of Curiosities, we can use up our weirdest, off-the-wall stuff. So far it's been trees that ingest unwary children, doll-houses with spider legs, sentient nightmares, murderous cakes. . . .

So, if your book just doesn't have space for a rat with a brass diving helmet and eyes that weep green algae, write a short story.

3. You get the satisfaction of finishing something

You can write a short story in an hour if you're into it. You can polish it up in a couple hours more. For me, writing a book is long and complicated and sometimes scary and frustrating, because every one of those 70,000+ words need to fit together perfectly to be something readable, and the idea of that can be incredibly daunting. But when writing a short story, I feel I have much more control over every aspect of it. It feels manageable and when it's done and it turned out the way I wanted it to, I'm just as happy as when I write a whole book.

4. There is a market for short stories

Business-y, but hey.

Middle grade anthologies like Cabinet are fairly few and far between at the moment, but there's been a massive surge in YA anthologies in the last two years, and there's always been a healthy market for short fiction in the adult science fiction and fantasy world. So even if you just write short stories for fun, you can definitely use it for your writing career. If it's picked up by an e-zine, you get to put your best foot forward and show a sampling of what you do to a wide audience. As a reader, I love short stories, too. I get to experience an author's work without committing to reading a whole book. It's almost like the literary equivalent of a movie trailer, and I've found some of my favorite authors through short fiction.


We're all super excited for the release of these 36 creepy tales from Greenwillow / HarperCollins, with illustrations and decorations throughout by the amazing Alexander Jansson, and with tons of snippets and letters and extra content.

You can follow the Curators on social media here:

Katherine Catmull: Blog and Twitter

Claire Legrand: Blog and Twitter

Stefan Bachmann: Blog and Twitter

Emma Trevayne: Blog and Twitter

You can follow the Cabinet’s twitter feed here.(Where we are announce PODCASTS. AND NEW STORIES. AND GIVEAWAYS! All the good things.

About The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister

A collection of thirty-six forty eerie, mysterious, intriguing, and very short stories by the acclaimed authors Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire LeGrand, and Emma Trevayne. The Cabinet of Curiosities is perfect for fans of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and anyone who relishes a good creepy tale. Great for reading alone or reading aloud at camp or school!

The book features an introduction and commentary by the authors and black-and-white illustrations throughout.


  1. You make great points on what crafting short stories does for your writing. I would emphasize, too, the "business-y" side of it: short work is a great way to acquire publishing credits. There's a huge market for short stories and flash fiction nowadays, even if you're not writing the kinds of pieces that have historically been published in literary journals. I've definitely found that I've been able to generate a lot more interest from agents and publishers in my novels since I began publishing short work - it lends a lot of credibility to those query letters when you can include a list of credits.

    1. That's so true. Thanks for bringing it up! My first writing credits were short stories, and I think even just one or two credits in a query letter shows prospective agents that you're serious about what you do, and that other people have taken you're work seriously, too. Also, getting a short story picked up was so encouraging for my fragile writer-brain. :) It can give a lot of incentive.

  2. Now I want to go and write a short story. But I do have a hard time thinking up something while I'm in the middle of a novel. But it just occurred to me while reading your post that some of the things I have had to cut out for the sake of concise-ness in the novel could actually be short stories themselves.

    Though, without all the background, how does one do that? Well, that would be a good way for me to practice getting just enough info into the short story so that the person not reading the novel can still get the sense of it.

    And on the business end, what a good way to not only introduce the readers to my voice, but to my novel as well. I love little side stories to a main work (like Stephen King's Little Sisters of Eluria for example), and it makes me feel connected. Who doesn't want connected readers?

    Excellent post! Really gave me a lot to think about.

  3. Brava! Great post.

    Short stories were my entrée into the writing life. They are tremendous skill builders, for all the reasons you cite.
    I take to heart Priscilla Long's admonition (The Writer's Portable Mentor): work is not finished until you send it out into the world. Short stories are an achievable bite to slice off and swallow. Going through the submission process helped me grow thicker skin, being published gave me confidence to keep going, to believe that my voice resonated with readers.
    I'm just about to send my first novel to an editor and I'm not ready to undertake revisions of my second novel. My summer goal (as I assemble my media kit & marketing plan for novel one) is to craft several short stories and flash fiction pieces. I want to keep my short chops sharp!

    1. Oh, cool, best of luck on the novel! :D And thank you! I'm happy you liked the post.

      I definitely agree about the submission process. It's a bit less daunting than sending out whole books, and at the same time I learned a ton about different markets and genres and being patient and being ready to try again if Plan A didn't work out. Basically everything I needed to know for novel submissions.

      Also, so much yes to the confidence-building aspect. It is SO happy-making getting an acceptance letter from anywhere.

  4. And then there are those who write stories as their preferred art form. Some of our greatest writers, past and present, are short story tellers. :)

    1. Definitely. :) And I think books/short stories do need slightly different skill-sets after a point. But especially for people who use too many words *raises hand wildly* it's a good exercise.

  5. This post has got me thinking a lot. I love writing short stories and have a few already, but have very little knowledge as to how to get them seen! Its nice to know that there may be people interested in stories about twin pineapples with sibling rivalry after all! Haha

  6. Any advice would be greatly appreciated :)

    1. Duotrope.com was always my go-to site, but they recent went from free to subscription, so you'd have to decide if they're worth the cost or not. But they were a great database of markets. A quick Google search suggested these free sites: http://nostroviawriting.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/duotrope-alternates-list-for-poets/

      You can also look in the magazine section at a bookstore or grocery store for some ideas on where to submit your stories. Places like Writers' Digest Writers' Market also has possible short story markets.

      The process is similar to novel submissions: find a market, see what they buy, follow their guidelines and send in the story. Markets range from smaller magazines all the way up to pro-level magazines.

      I had a guest author do an article on marketing short stories, so she'll have a lot of additional info as well:


      Hope that helps! If you have any other questions just ask.