Short stories require skills honed through experience and study, with every writer utilizing their own techniques. Even though every author has their own method for composing these miniature tales, most agree that short stories are more difficult to write than novels. 

Here are 4 reasons why short stories are so hard to write:

  1. Authors must use fewer words.
  2. Plot development is challenging.
  3. Characters must replace detailed drama.
  4. There is no room for wasted words.

Novels may ramble on for a page or two, but that’s simply not the case for short stories. Authors must learn how to turn an entire chapter into a few sentences, which takes greater effort. Read on to learn more.

1. Authors Must Use Fewer Words

Every writer knows the feeling — while composing a story, it begins to “flow,” and the words just come. These moments are, to the majority of wordsmiths, the most satisfying part of writing. The unimpeded trajectory of the words seamlessly develops into a highly-detailed, elaborate story that easily captivates the reader.

Alas, this “flow” can be detrimental when it comes to short stories.

During these moments when the creative juices flow, authors often become overly descriptive. This works in novels, but intricate details and deeply interwoven backstories don’t perform as well in short stories. 

Miniature tales must be precise, incorporating the right amount of dialogue, description, and detail while also getting the message or moral across.

Writers often find themselves mindlessly scratching their heads or tapping their fingers on their desk as they ponder the best way to deliver a message using significantly fewer words, which is an extremely complicated task.

2. Plot Development Is Challenging

The condensed structure of short stories makes setting scenes challenging, and fewer words leave little room for significant plot development. Developing a plot requires detail, but including too much can be detrimental to a short story, distracting from the plot and overall message within the tale.

With that said, authors have to include detail to draw the reader into the story. As such, they must be picky about the details they contain. Additionally, writers must include emotional elements to encourage the reader to care about the story, its characters, and overall purpose.

So, how do you create an interesting plot and a story that evokes powerful feelings when you’re limited on word count?

The short answer is that time must lose value when composing short stories.

Authors should think diligently about the information, commentary, and experience they have regarding the moral they wish to express, and then condense that moral.

In novels, the plot could be cliché and overdone and the characters underdeveloped, but with room to develop the drama, dialogue, and storyline, the author can still create a captivating tale for readers.

Short stories do not have the same luxury.

As such, authors of short stories often use the characters to replace the detailed, elaborate drama witnessed in novels, using them as the core source of entertainment to convey the moral.

3. Characters Must Replace Detailed Drama

Since short stories frequently utilize the characters as the primary source of entertainment and drama in a short story, it’s important to develop them. But developing characters in limited words presents its own challenges.

In novels, authors have ample room to tell each character’s story

They can implement subtle quirks, flashback to their past, display them in their most helpless state, and show them deeply engaged in certain situations using body language, dialogue, thoughts, and actions.

Short stories severely limit the author when it comes to character development, as they’re often limited to the present moment within the story, where the character’s behavior and actions hold more weight.

A lot of scenarios may require implications. For example:

  • A young girl was bitten by a dog as a child. The author can’t spend too much time going into great detail regarding the scenario, but the mention of a scar on her face and her negative physical reactions to canines could provide the reader with enough information to imply a previous attack.
  • A man was abused as a boy by his mother. Instead of diving deep into the details of the abuse sustained at the hands of his mother, the author could hint at it by showing his aversion to women who resemble her or describing how he reacts to the smell of a perfume she wore.
  • A wizard received his powers after a lightning strike. Without describing the scene where he was struck, the author might describe Lichtenberg figures (branched-like scarring) on his skin and how he feels electricity or a jolt when utilizing his sorcery.

Writers may find it challenging to carry the main character through a life-changing event using a limited number of words, but that’s exactly what a short story should do. Due to the restraints on space and time, many authors begin or build their stories around these critical moments in a character’s life.

The main issue with character development in short stories is that life-defining moments, in reality, aren’t straightforward, sequential, and organized.

Deep self-reflection and situations where we learn things about ourselves are often chaotic and disorderly. Authors writing short stories must identify an uncomplicated way to present these moments in fewer words while also making sense and grasping the significance of the character’s transformation.

Essentially, the author must put meaning to life, and it’s hard enough to do that when writing a 70,000-word novel. But when writing short stories, it becomes an arduous task that’s both ambitious and intimidating.

4. There Is No Room for Wasted Words

Short stories require the author to dive right into specific aspects of the story while also keeping it believable and entertaining for the reader.

It doesn’t matter how “behind-the-scenes” a short story is. Authors must create as much life, excitement, and drama in as few words as possible. As such, there is absolutely no room for wasted words in a short story.

Every character must be condensed while also showcasing their true essence. The atmosphere must be flawlessly delivered in fewer words, and the story has to flow eloquently and efficiently using minimum space.

Needless to say, short stories are a taxing undertaking.

Novels have the luxury of being slow for a page or two, as long as the next chapter captivates. With short stories, however, readers aren’t as understanding. They expect to feel and remain engaged throughout. 

Whether they’re left laughing, crying, angry, moved, or surprised, they want to experience something aside from boredom. Therefore, you must emotionally touch the reader using fewer words.