My brain has a tendency to stretch every story idea that comes to mind into a novel, no matter what it is. Novels have been my preference an...

My brain has a tendency to stretch every story idea that comes to mind into a novel, no matter what it is. Novels have been my preference and go-to length for most of my writing life, and for good reason: I love to read novels! But recently I've been challenged by my creative writing classes at university to write short stories. Though it's been difficult to shift my thinking into the shorter form, I've discovered numerous benefits and had a lot of fun as well!

In fact, I've enjoyed it so much I now believe all writers should practise writing short fiction, whether short stories or flash fiction or poetry. Even if you never write more than one, there are amazing benefits and skills developed in the process.

1) Finetune Conflict

Short fiction often focuses on a single conflict or a moment of one. Some writers even suggest that short stories are finding the climax of a story and trimming everything else, which is true to some extent: short fiction at its best delves into a heightened moment where conflicting forces clash, whether those are external or internal.

By writing and practising short fiction, you learn to build up, complicate, heighten and resolve conflict within a few hundred or thousand words. That's not a skill to be underestimated. As novels take hundred of pages to resolve tensions, often the art of learning how to handle a conflict by itself is lost amongst other concerns and subplots. Short fiction is an excellent refresher in how to use all the stakes, drama and emotional impact a single conflict can offer.

2) Tightens Prose

I'll be the first to declare I'm a wordy writer; indeed, I often over-inflate my prose with unneeded details and phrases. But short fiction doesn't give you the luxury of a large and flexible wordcount. Like in poetry, every word matters, and writing short fiction forces you to look at each word individually and justify its purpose.

For overwriters like myself, it can be a challenge to keep short fiction from expanding into novels when the words start flowing, but it's a needed challenge. By giving yourself a wordcount limit for your short fiction, you'll learn how to tell the best story you can with as few words as possible.

3) Understand Stories' Weights

Some stories require more page time than others. As I mentioned earlier, my instinct has always been to turn each story idea I get into a novel, but writing short fiction made me realize not every story needs to be that long. Some have a hundred thousand words to tell in them, some only two hundred. What's important is learning that there are stories better suited to short lengths, and some to long.

Writing short fiction has honed my ability to assess new story ideas for whether they have the weight of a novel, a short story or something inbetween. Such an understanding can save writers so much time: rather than trying to wrangle a small idea into a novel, it can become a short story, and give just as much joy.

 Do you write any short fiction? Do you enjoy it or prefer to write longer works? What writing are you working on at the moment?
Have a lovely day! <3

I'm the kind of reader who truly enjoys well-crafted morally grey characters or antiheroes: simply put, their nuances and choices fascin...

I'm the kind of reader who truly enjoys well-crafted morally grey characters or antiheroes: simply put, their nuances and choices fascinate me. But there's a fine line between creating a unlikeable character who readers love to follow, and an unlikeable character readers don't like at all. As a writer, how do you make sure you stay on the right side of the line?

When you expect a reader to bond with a character who they'd never like or tolerate in real life, a base for the reader-character bond has to be established on something other than kindness and morality. Personally, I will trail an unlikeable main character to the ends of the earth if I understand them, am amused by them, or think they're clever. Even better if it's all three!

1) Make Them Understandable

It would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find a person in this world who is purely good or evil: we all make decisions and moral choices throughout our lives that leave us streaked or mired in grey. Even so, it's human nature to judge others and their actions, including characters. If an unlikeable character is to be understood, they must have understandable, sympathetic and intricate reasons behind their immoral choices.

For example, a character who decides to kill because they like the feeling of blood on their hands is downright repulsive, and arguably a villain. But a character who kills because he believes it's the only thing he's good at and the only action of worth he can offer to the world, is far more interesting. Additonally, his selfdoubt is a sympathetic connection point for the reader.

A character's self-justification for their actions, based on reasons that strike to the very core of their hearts, and ones which readers can relate to on some level, will hook readers in. The same applies to any character, even those deemed likeable. Readers will stay with complex and understandable characters far longer than any other, eager to learn more and more about them.

2) Make Them Funny

I'll admit it: if a character is witty, sarcastic, or tells incredible jokes, I immediately like them. There's something about humour that disarms people, and the same applies to characters. Readers love to be entertained and laugh to balance out any other dark themes or topics that might be explored in the story.

If you browse the reviews of many popular books, you'll notice a theme of reviewers raving about how much they love funny characters. Reviews might even be littered with quotes of their witty remarks. For example, in Margaret Rogerson's 'Sorcery of Thorns' Nathaniel and Silas are adored for their perfect comedic moments and comebacks, making readers attached to them despite their darker tendencies.

3) Make Them Clever

Nothing frustrates readers more (especially myself) than a character who is dumb. Readers want to be surprised and thrilled by a story's plot, or at least feel like they're not spending a hundred pages waiting for a character to pick up on the same clues they did.

Even if a character has a cruel streak, and isn't particularly funny, if they're intelligent and sharp-witted, personally, I'll be eager to follow their story. A smart character promises a smart plot and plenty of twists and reveals I didn't see coming. For example, Ramson in 'Blood Heir' by Amelie Wen Zhao may not be kind, but his intelligence and ability to navigate a difficult underworld made me drawn to his character's story.

Making a character clever, if nothing else, is giving them a trait readers can admire. If the rest of their personality and actions is despicable, letting your character be intelligent at least ensures readers will remain with them to see how their schemes unfold, or how they reveal others'.

Do you enjoy writing or reading unlikeable characters? What makes you bond with characters that are morally grey? Do you have any book recommendations with unlikable heroes?
Have a wonderful day! <3