The Elegance of Short Stories

Guest Post by Mercedes M. Yardley



Mercedes M. Yardley is a dark fantasist who wears red lipstick and poisonous flowers in her hair. She writes short stories, nonfiction, novellas, and novels. She is the author of Beautiful Sorrows, Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love, Nameless, Little Dead Red, and her latest release, Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy. Mercedes lives and works in Sin City, and you can reach her at


Short stories and flash fiction might be my very favorite writing form. There’s an elegance to telling an entire story in a condensed space. Each phrase must be studied and held up to the light. Every word must be polished like a jewel. It takes a special kind of discipline and I find this to be a lovely thing.

Novels give you room to roam, frolic, and romp. But short stories force the author to be concise. You don’t have 80,000 words to tell the story, to explain the romance, to discuss how to the protagonist feels. You have maybe 5,000 words. Perhaps 1,000. How do you convey emotion and complexity in such a minimal space?

It forces the author to edit. To really take an axe and kill their darlings. There isn’t room for pages and pages of backstory. There is perhaps room for a line. A brief mention. Perhaps there isn’t any room at all. That mention of your protagonist’s life back on the farm? Maybe it turns into its own separate short story, or perhaps the readers never learn about it at all. Choosing what to reveal and what to keep mysterious is a crucial part of the writing process. Short stories make sure you learn that.

They also help you break into markets. I had dozens of short pieces published before I ever came out with my first book. My first book was, in fact, a collection of short stories. Short stories are much quicker to write than novels, obviously. They’re a wonderful way to not only learn about writing (beginning, middle, end, etc.) but are a fantastic way to learn about the marketing aspect. You learn how to properly format your work. You learn what information to include. By sending out short stories, you learn how to develop relationships with editors and other people in the field. You learn how to submit, how to wait patiently for a reply, and how to professionally query when you don’t hear a reply.

With each story you submit, your fear diminishes and your confidence grows. You learn that rejection doesn’t destroy you. You figure out which stories sell and which don’t. You learn what your literary voice sounds like, and how to summon it when you need to. You learn that perhaps you have several literary voices, and they will all serve you well in your craft.

You’ll learn how to write for yourself instead of simply for readers. You’ll learn how to write for readers as well as yourself.

When the time comes to write and pitch The Big Scary Novel, it won’t be as horrifying. You’ll have done it before, several times, in several elegant little short stories and to tough markets. People will have heard your name.

“Didn’t you write This Fantastic Little Short Story?” They’ll ask.

“Why, yes,” you’ll say demurely. “And I wrote it well, too. This novel is also written just as well. Don’t you want to take a look?”

Novels and shorts are different beasts entirely, but they are both worthwhile. They’re things of joy and wonder. You can write perhaps ten short stories in the time that it takes you to write a novel. That’s ten unique worlds. Ten new storylines to follow. Several new characters to fall in love with. New villains to hate. Or adore, as the case may be.

You can change the lives of readers, and yourself, by allowing yourself to create your short stories. I very much hope you do.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.