Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Guest Blog: Karen Henderson on The Appeal of Short Stories

Today it gives me great pleasure to host Karen Henderson here on my blog. She's writing about a subject close to my heart so please do have a read, and at the end there is also a chance to win an ebook! Without further ado, I will hand over to Karen.

The Appeal of Short Stories

Most people would agree that the definition of “story” is “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment”. However, the definition of the length of the story varies greatly, but the most accurate (in my opinion) is “the length that is required to tell the story”; be that six words or six thousand words or six hundred thousand words.

There was a time when I would not purchase a book unless it was the size and weight of a door stop. The more pages the better. It would mean I would be lost in another world for longer. I could savour every detail. Besides, the bigger the book the less I felt ripped off with increasing book prices. Think about it, why buy a 100 page book when you could pay the same price for a 300 page book and get three times the reading experience? It made perfect sense, to me. No thought was given to the fact that maybe the shorter story was well written and just as enjoyable.

Then I became a wife and mother. I worked full time during the day and did the motherly things in the evenings and on weekends. I didn’t have time for 300 pages and suddenly those 100 page books were looking more attractive. At least I could get through them in a reasonable amount of time. I could read several books in a year instead of a couple of tombs.

Late one night, when my boys were tucked up in bed sleeping peacefully, I started writing my own story. Over the next three years I wrote three novel length manuscripts, with a total word count of almost one million words. The characters from those three stories will be etched forever in my mind. To me, they are real people with real lives.

None of those manuscripts have been published, but writing them gave me an insight; writing long stories was not necessarily better than writing shorter ones. Yes, those stories are real to me but that doesn’t mean they should be published. Not in their original format anyway. No one wants to know every detail of every person. And do we really need to talk about the weather or the scenery for five pages? It’s boring and it’s the quickest way to get readers to stop reading.

When time is precious, a reader might turn to a short story. They can experience the entire story in one sitting—beginning, middle and end. They can sample many genres, characters and settings in a single day. They can experience life threatening situations, be tempted by romance, travel the universe and live the life of a person they would only dare to imagine, but would never want to become.

Stories can teach us the importance of tolerance, they can show us how people of other walks of life live and they can inspire us to improve our own situation.

Yet is writing a short story easier and faster than writing a novel?

Technically, it is faster to write five thousand words than a hundred thousand. But that doesn’t mean it’s easier. And it doesn’t mean writing a short story is suitable for all writers.

A novel writer can explore many aspects of a world and the characters. The manuscripts can consist of complex plots that intertwine. There is plenty of time to explore, work through and resolve these things.

However, a short story doesn’t have the luxury of time and space for all that. A short story is a slice of life. Remember, there is a word limit—often 5,000 words—and it takes great presence of mind for the writer not to get carried away with all the sub-plots that could be written about. In short stories, too many plots are distracting and confusing. If you think every word counts when writing a novel length story, imagine how difficult it is when exploring a plot in a short story. It takes expertise to accomplish it successfully.

No matter what the length of the story, it must leave the reader feeling something when they reach the end. Only stories that speak to and move the reader will be remembered.

Writing short stories isn’t for everyone, just like reading them isn’t. But a great short story can be just as entertaining and inspiring as a novel. Please tell me the title and author of a short story that left you thoughtful and moved.


This guest post is part of the “Tomorrow” Virtual Book Tour starting on 6 July 2013. To find out more about the stories, the authors and the publication go to the virtual booktour schedule page.


I am offering “Ramblings of a Rusty Writer” readers a chance to win a copy to the “Tomorrow” ebook (in the format of the winner’s choice). Just leave a comment on this post and your name will be in the draw. One name will be randomly drawn and the winner will be announced in the comments section, in a couple of days.

Before I go, I’d just like to say a big thank you to Rebecca for hosting this stop on the book tour. If you haven’t been here before you should take a moment to look around. You’ll find an interesting mix of shorts, reviews and a look at a writer’s life.

About Karen Henderson

Karen Henderson is an editor at Kayelle Press, a small independent publisher of speculative fiction in Australia. Their latest release is “Tomorrow”, a post-apocalyptic anthology exploring the possible outcomes of plagues, biohazards, human error, natural disasters and intergalactic travel. The book is available in paperback and various digital formats from their website and from most online bookstores. Visit the website to find out more.


  1. I've read lots of short stories over the years, but one of the most memorable of recent times was by Malorie Blackman. From the collection 'Words Last Forever', it's a story called 'Dad, Can I Come Home?' and is an excellent example of an artist breaking rules, in that it is told almost entirely in dialogue, something I was always telling my KS2 pupils to avoid! ;-)

    1. Thanks for responding to my question, Nikki.

      I've always liked dialogue. You can get a real feel for a person by the way they interact with others. And sometimes it seems more real.

  2. I must admit I am one to reach for an epic read over a short story, but I do see the appeal.


    1. The one thing I neglected to mention in the post is that as I get older my attention span shortens. I don't seem to want long and complex anything these days. I'm more of a short and sweet type of girl now. :D

  3. And the winner is ... NikkiF.


    Can you please send an email to kayellepress AT gmail DOT com to claim your prize. Don't forget to tell me what format you'd prefer (epub, mobi, pdf). :D

    1. Congratulations to Nikki, and thank you Karen for this interesting post. Best of luck with the book.