Short stories are a great way to refresh your energy, give you new ideas, create new characters, and distract you when you’re in a writing rut. If you are sick and tired of the world you’ve created in your full-length novel, create a new world in a day.

By getting into the practice of regularly writing short stories, especially with an outside prompt from a short story contest, you will stretch yourself as a writer and find inspiration when you turn back to your novel.

You can even submit your short story for a chance to get published and maybe even win some prize money.

There are more short story contests out there than you can shake a stick at; some are moderately priced to enter, some are free. It goes without saying, but I like free best.

Challenge Accepted

Typically, you’ll be given some sort of guidelines for your entry, whether it be the first sentence you must use, a key word or theme, or simply the word count (bet on around 300-500 words for the mini short stories, longer for others, until you get to novella length).

An entire story in 350 words or so?

Might sound easy at first, but it’s more difficult than you might think.

The plus side? You’re going to get excellent at editing. Not perfectly worded? Gotta go. Mildly amusing sentence when you wanted laugh out loud hilarious? Strike it. Each word will be perfectly placed, choreographed, rearranged, sorted, and finally allowed – or not – to stay. It’s good practice if, say, Tolstoy, could whittle down your normal writing.

If you don’t want to enter a contest but still want to try your hand at short stories, the sky’s the limit. Go for a walk for inspiration, tell a tale from your childhood, describe your weirdest dream as if it really happened to you, wander through an art gallery and give the art a backstory.

While scrolling through Pinterest one day I came across this poster.

How short stories can inspire your novel

Source unknown

Loving the macabre and yet charming idea of the Drowned Ball, I wrote the following short story.

The Iceberg Ball

Excerpt from The Drowned Gazette, Issue 4, Entertainment Page 2, by Nola Sparrow:

Now in its 103rd year, the Iceberg Ball has not lost its luster, nor its relevance. Indeed, this reporter has been assured that not only will there be special guests from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (please make them feel welcome), but our Band in Residence, The Sunken Pipes, will be performing throughout the night.

Also on board (just a little ship humor, dear readers) is a mouthwatering menu consisting of all local and organic fare. Our treasured and much lauded Chef Plitts has curtailed our nervous fears of reliving the disastrous dinner of 1936, where I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, we all went back to our graves with severe food poisoning from the Blow Fish Soufflé. Chef Plitts would not submit to my feminine wiles as far as providing me with the extensive menu, but he has promised me we can look forward to savoring his famous Seaweed Puffs, Minced Eel with Sea Beans, and naturally, what ball goer stay late for: the Titanic Trifle.

New on our dance cards this year, ladies and gentlemen, an up tempo beat the youngsters on land are calling The Twerk. We in the entertainment know are practicing this new move on our own so as to be prepared.

Also new this year, underwater tours of the surrounding areas of our beloved wreck. Please sign up ahead of time as we expect this new addition to our Ball to be quite popular with the history buffs of our crew! Also, please be prepared to give up your spot to anyone of our guests from the Edmund Fitzgerald, as we want to be as hospitable. Please recall that they are forever anchored to the Great Lakes, where they sunk, and they are eager to view a more proper ocean. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

In short: ladies, trim the seaweed off your gowns, and gentlemen, pry the barnacles from your whiskers! This will be an Iceberg Ball to remember. See you there!

~

Total word count for The Iceberg Ball was 347. It didn’t win the contest I entered, but I still thought it was good fun.

In short (get it? Short? Short story? HA!), if you are feeling stuck, bored, aimless, or downright hateful of your novel at the moment, try writing something small and concise. It might just re-energize you and cause you to remember why you wanted to be a writer in the first place.

PIN IT

Writing Tips: How short stories can improve your novel writing