Why short story and flash fiction writing is a good idea

Thrilled that my story Orchard Kingdom – a keen favourite of mine – was awarded first prize in the Ottery St Mary short story competition. Now I just need the agent who has The Shanty Keeper’s Wife full manuscript to say ‘yes’ and my world will be full indeed.

I went through a phase of thinking of competitions as simply taking time out of one’s ‘proper’ writing and for us novelists therefore a waste. But now I’m a convert (helped of course by having some successes this year I will freely admit). Here’s why:

They keep your writing hand in at times when you don’t want to work on the great WIP
They give you the chance to play with different styles and themes, flexing your writing muscles
They teach you how to keep your reader’s attention. A whole story in 500 words (sometimes fewer) is a discipline well learned. Does it have a beginning a middle and an end? No room for rambling here, no sub-plots.
It teaches you that readers are intelligent beings too. You don’t have to explain everything, ie Resist the Urge to Explain.
Related to the above is to leave some things open to interpretation. Let the reader find their own way through the story, to relate it to their own experiences and thus love it as if it’s written just for them

Finally, they teach you an awful lot about making every single little itsy word count – be sparse with adjectives, use active tense. But this doesn’t mean short sentences only – a mix of short and longer sentences makes the reader concentrate harder, be surprised.

So even if you want to spend all your precious writing time on the novel, indulge in some short story writing from time to time. Put the bits you like best into competitions (there are thousands, many free, mostly cheap, and some offer substantial cash prizes too) and enjoy that total thrill when you get a place!

Good luck!

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