First, I finally remembered to look at my interview, posted Tuesday, and it isn't too bad. Thanks to Sandra at Novel Journey ( for her attention.

Today and tomorrow I'd like to look at the short story as a device for novleists. Today I'll focus on what it does for the writer; tomorrow on what it can do for her career.

Short stories are of necessity short. That means that every word has to serve a purpose: no clever asides, no interesting but irrelevant facts or factoids. The premise must be established immediately, and everything that follows must advance toward the goal (in a mystery, the solution to the crime). This is great practice for any writer. We learn to curb our rambling, to choose the best words and the best order. We consider every sentence and "when in doubt, leave it out." Characters, and there can't be a lot of them, must be established in a few phrases, through crisp dialogue and telling actions.

What's good about all this is that it applies to longer writing very well. Although a novelist has more time and space for subplots, secondary characters, and pearls of wisdom for the reader, she still should know the value of exact words, clear phrasing, and a continuing sense of forward momentum. Therefore the short story might be considered as a valuable exercise for novelists: a tuning fork that brings one's writing back to the correct tone.

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Comment by Dana King on July 10, 2009 at 1:00am
I've become a recent convert to flash fiction for all of the reasons cited above. Short stories are hard: short enough to have all the virtues you cite, but full enough that I'm often left wanting more when I'm finished reading, so they seem incomplete in some way. With flash, you're in and you're out.

Flash is good when you just want to use an idea and be done with it; shorts are better when the idea requires a little spinning out, but not the fill-blown novel process.

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