Short Story Writing is an Artform Unto Itself

Guest blog by Joshua Johnson

I am not gifted as such an artist. For more than a decade I tried to write standalone short stories only to find myself building them into novels. I never had the self-control to keep things short and to the point.

The biggest thing that got in my way was the worldbuilding. I wanted to create, and convey to the reader, the world into which I was throwing them.

It wasn’t until I created the world of Zaria and my Griffins and Gunpowder universe that I came to see short stories as something that I could use as worldbuilding in their own right.

I want to be clear: your short stories, even as worldbuilding, need to have a plot, characters, and story all their own. But writing multiple short stories in the same world as a novel has the distinct advantage that you can partially rely on those other works as your worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding through short stories, novelettes and novellas allows you a greater deal of flexibility, not only in writing those short stories but in writing the novels that they are meant to accompany.

Short stories that are built in the same world allow you to give details of your world in bite sized bits, rather than infodumping in one long story. You can introduce a nation in one short story, and give the most basic information about them. In another story, you can give some of the history of the nation, and tell about its people.

Using this method, you limit the amount of background that you dump on readers while still getting the information across to them in an effective manner.

***

Joshua Johnson is the creator of the Griffins and Gunpowder universe, a world of Gunpowder Fantasy. He has written one novel, The Cerberus Rebellion, and a series of short stories, collectively The Chesian Wars. His website is www.gunpowderfantasy.com

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15 thoughts on “Short Story Writing is an Artform Unto Itself

  1. I totally agree with this. I have a worldbuilding blog that I use to create a scifi universe. It’s really fun to write but I find I have a hard time “advertising” to my niche audience. I know there’s a huge worldbuilding fan base out there. Have you had any luck?

  2. I agree that shorts have the potential for approaching world building from non-traditional perspectives. Another important aspect to world building in shorts is to know how much world building is required for the story. For example, in a dystopian science fiction story, do we need to know the inner working of the plumber’s union? Do we care how the society grows food and distributes it? Possibly, but probably not.

    The trick, (and it is a very difficult trick to master), is to understand the specific elements of your world that impact the story, which often, especially in science fiction, hold the seeds of the primary conflict within the story. Because shorts stories are so, well, short – all of the world building must also propel the narrative and relate to the characters and conflict. As soon as you begin plugging holes in the social fabric and reality the characters inhabit, the story grows and becomes like a legal contract. The more you attempt to define the terms of the contract, the more gray areas emerge that require explanation. And those explanations need to relate back to the story itself. (No wonder it’s hard to do well.)

    And, of course, every story has a different set of rules governing world building and what is necessary. It’s fun though, both to write and to read.

    • I dunno… if it were a romance, I’d say this was true. Everything added must propel things forward. But a lot of scifi and fantasy fans like the little nuances. Like does the name and history of who forged the sword make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s cool to know about the history of the sword and maybe why it’s so much better than every other sword.

      • But isn’t it so much cooler when some seemingly trivial fact about the sword’s history way back at the beginning of the story, becomes a pivotal plot point later on?

      • In theory, yes. But that rarely happens lol. I feel like the sword history is just there to make you fantasize about what you would do if you were living in that world. Like what color lightsaber blade you would rock. It’s not necessarily a huge plot point but knowing how the lightsaber was built makes you more involved in the world.

    • Yeah…. I went through a quick flashback montage of all the fantasy I’ve read and I can’t think of one where the history of the sword was a PIVOTAL plot point. Maybe a minor side plot. Like why it kicks a** in battle or has healing powers.

      Perhaps a new story in the making???

      • Ever read Elric? Stormbringer is his sword. It is the coolest sword in literature, imho. Michael Moorcock wrote the series. Elric of Melniboné is the first book and is available on Kindle.

        Perhaps I have a thing for foreshadowing and metaphor. 🙂

      • And weeping tough guys =p

        Does the sword prove to be a pivotal plot point? I haven’t read that book.

  3. Yes, the sword is pivotal, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. There are 6 books and they are relatively short.

  4. I think the trick with worldbuilding is to keep it to an absolute minimum. There’s a danger in throwing in too much information and “making something so very special” of your “special, special world”.

    Plus, worldbuilding can be something of a time sink. In my youth I caught the Dungeons and Dragons bug just as it was taking off. Worldbuilding in those days consisted in listing EVERY pet of EVERY dwarf in EVERY bar in EVERY town in EVERY kingdom of the Principality of WasteofBloodyTime, just in case any of the players snook in for a leak between slaying mutant quadrupeds. Nowadays, the trend is for very sketchy plotlines — far less time consuming, and easily as good as describing EVERY scar on EVERY pet…

    We have to remember that all fiction is merely flavour. I could write a 20,000 word treatise on my “world” in staggering detail, conveying precisely what I see, down to the wonders of the smoke coils pouring from each lofty turret. Anyone reading it would see nothing of what I hold in my imagination and find their own inner fancy bombarded by a 20,000 word behemoth.

    The trick with worldbuilding is to make it consistent, and slip in details here and there in a matter of fact way, like you were writing about a tramp picking his nose.

    • I agree (even about the D & D thing). Another interesting aspect is how quickly you create the mood of the world, not necessarily details, but the general environment. How quickly do you need to let the reader know that it is very cold and desolate, or urban or whatever, and how the main character(s) relate to that world. Because, again, with shorts you don’t have the luxury of a slow build, especially if the world is a character in it’s own right.

      And if you dump large amounts of information early on, the reader (me), might get bored due to the lack of action or plot. If you don’t explain enough, then the reader is lost and may not understand why things are happening as they are or even worse, misunderstand character motivation.

      It is fun to read when done well, though.

    • I too take this same approach when worldbuilding. The detail here and there vs. info dump. But while every scar may not be important, sometimes readers want an info dump on how something works because it’s both interesting and a foreign concept.

      Going back to the sword example, taking some time to explain how it was forged has the potential to enhance reading enjoyment.

      • LOL, for me, every scar IS important and the details of the forging should be important later on as well. But, there are really entertaining information dumps to be sure, ( as I said before, the reader ‘might’ get bored). And I think you are right about the entertaining info dumps, bringing a drama to it is a cool way to do it. Like the history of forging the sword.

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