Should You Write Short Stories Before You Write a Novel?

(Why cacti in the header photo? WHY NOT.)

When I started to write (way back when I was wee), I wanted to write novels. So, that is what I did. I wrote novels. (They weren’t actually full length novels. I was a child, and with that comes the attention span of a sparrow when there are too many peanuts). When I got a little older, and I discovered short stories were a thing, I tried my hand at those.

Um, they’re hard.

Type into google, “Should you write short stories before you write a novel?” You’ll get a bazillion results. And many people say you should.

What do I have to say about that? Should you write short stories before you write a novel?


I mean, you can if you want to. It’s probably not going to do any harm. You won’t turn into an illiterate dolphin or anything. By writing short stories you will improve, and you will learn new things. No matter WHAT you write, you will learn something from it.

But writing a short story is different from writing a novel.

Yes, a lot of elements are the same. As many advocates of short stories say, it takes far less time to write a short story than a novel, so you can get in more practice.

*raises hand* Hang on, how many writers do you know that write things just for practice? (And I mean outside of writing classes or workshops.) (Maybe this is just me.)

But putting that point aside, a short story is different from a novel. Short stories range from 200 words to 20,000, which is VERY different from a novel, which is 50,000 and counting.

A novel contains more subplots, bigger and multiple character arcs, more characters, more world building, etc.

In a novel you have 50,000 + words to fit your story into. That’s a LOT of wriggle room.

A short story? You better make sure you can squeeze a bunch of stuff into 1,000 words, or have a plot simple enough that it works in just 1,000 words. And to me, that’s a lot harder than writing a novel.

I really have only written 2 completed short stories. (Meaning, I have dabbled a lot in flash fiction but never really finished anything.) Has it improved my writing? Obviously, because writing anything is helpful. But I don’t think it has specifically helped me write novels.

Writing and editing a novel are different experiences than writing and editing a short story. It is a very different journey and a very different planning process. With short stories you don’t get as attached to characters, you aren’t trying to wrangle as many subplots together, and you’re just tying up 2,000 words instead of 80,000.

The other presumption is that writing a novel takes a long time. Yes, and no. Some people can write the first draft of a novel in breakneck speed. Some can’t.

So, maybe if you write novels really slowly, writing a short story would be helpful????

Maybe I’m just a purist, but I believe you should write whatever comes to you. Maybe it’s a novel, a novella, flash fiction etc. Write that. Write everything.

You don’t need to write short stories before you write a novel. Don’t wait. If you have an idea that you want to write, write it.


Photo by Thomas Verbruggen on Unsplash

4 responses to “Should You Write Short Stories Before You Write a Novel?”

  1. I feel like it’s the same with choreography. The difference between choreographing a full hour or a three minute piece. Both tell stories. But how do you want to tell the story?


  2. I totally agree with you! If you have a short story idea, write a short story. If you have a novel idea, write a novel. Structurally they are two completely different things. I heard someone once say that a novel is watching an Olympic gymnast train for months, then go to the Olympics, endure hardships, and stick the landing. A short story is watching her stick the landing. Write what makes you happy because I think that’s what writing is about! :)


    1. That is such a good description of the difference between a short story and a novel! Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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