A couple years ago, I picked up an interesting tip from established novelists. They said that the short story format is an excellent way to introduce new readers to their books. I’ve seen this technique used time and time again. Basically, a novelist will have enough “room” in their world to pen a tale that focuses on a specific character and happens (typically) outside of the main plot.
Alex Bledsoe recently did this when he wrote “What’s the Frequency, Francis?” for an anthology I edited called Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror. In his notes, he wrote about The Return of Sir Francis Colby on his blog. This technique was really effective for him because it drew existing readers familiar with the character to the public reading and it also serves as an introduction for anyone who doesn’t know the character from Blood Groove.
I’ve taken a different approach with my own work because I’ve been focused on building my readership. Since I am not an established novelist, I am testing out unique settings to see how readers respond. Sometimes, the combination of the surreal with the mundane works. Other times, readers don’t want a heavy amount of speculative prose, they just want to hear a straight-up story. While no two readers (or editors) are alike, short stories allow me to figure out what I like to write, how I like to write it, and who my potential audience is.
The other benefit to writing short stories in this way, is that it’s allowed me to focus on worldbuilding from a practical standpoint. I have two, very well-developed settings and a third in development that I created to tell multiple stories (regardless of genre) in. “Tailfeather,” which was published last summer in Apexology: Science Fiction & Fantasy, is set in a dystopian world I’ve had on the back burner for several years. “Fangs and Formaldehyde,” my vampire short story in the upcoming New Hero anthology, takes place in Las Vegas in a universe where vampires not only have a specific point-of-origin — they literally blow up and die if they get too emotional. Established worlds allow me to tell tales without going through the trouble of recreating a brand new setting. They also allow me to explore longer works which is exactly what’s happening here.
Regardless of what your experience level is, take a look at short stories and figure out how they can be used to “sell” your other work. Mind you, they’re different from chapter previews, because the plot is typically self-contained and resolves within that word count. (I say typically, because some larger mysteries might be resolved in a sequel or in the novel itself.) They are their own form, mind you, but it’s a good exercise to take. Especially if you’re working on word conversation or learning how to be more succinct.[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://howtowriteshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/MLV_Logo_Color_Small.png[/author_image] [author_info]Monica Valentinelli is an author and game designer who lives in the dark. Her hobbies include: tormenting her cats, designing jewelry, and hiking in the woods. [/author_info] [/author]