Why You Should Write Short Stories before Writing a Novel
I did it the other way around.
The year was 2006 and I was at the Howrah railway station in Kolkata. My train was 8 hours late and I had no idea how to kill time. So I looked around, ate macher jhol as a mid-morning snack, sat in a chair, and began to stare at the giant clock in the atrium, hoping for its arms to move faster. But the time slowed down and I found myself reflecting on the novels I had read during my childhood.
As I immersed in the past, the stories that I recalled settled around me. The images were vivid and the plots complete. Novels by my favourite writers: Fredrick Forsyth, Ian Fleming, Sidney Sheldon, James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie, Alistair MacLean, Wilbur Smith, Leon Uris etc.
There is something magical in the air at Howrah.
I have no idea what it was--still don't--but at that moment I found the Haryanvi in me wanting to write a novel. In those 8 hours that I sat there, I wrote the few chapters of what was later published as my first novel, The Bet.
The novel, sadly, turned out to be a mistake. As a writer I wasn't ready to write a full-length novel and in hurry to publish it, I ended up with a novel that was poorly written.
Did I learn my lesson from it?
Few years later I followed The Bet with another mediocre novel. But by 2011, I realised my mistake, albeit the hard way.
For a writer to be able to write well, one should begin with shorter pieces of fiction. Short stories, just like a novel, have the same elements: characters, conflict, setting, Point of View and plot.
In an interview to Bibliostar TV in 2013 Stephen King says, "Novels are a quagmire that a lot of younger writers tumble into before they are ready to go there. I started with short stories because the novels that I wrote when I was twenty were so bad that they were not accepted by the publishers and I didn't even bother to revise them."
In my journey as a bestselling novelist, writing short stories has helped me immensely. It has taught me the importance of each and every word. It has taught me the economy of emotion. And it has allowed me to be in greater control of my plot.
In India, sadly, we don't have creative writing courses, unlike the west, and for those of us who want to write, there's no easy way to learn. With an intention of helping other writers and involving myself even more in the fascinating world of short stories, in 2011, I founded a literary magazine called Open Road Review. This not-for-profit model that's free to access, advertisement free, and funded entirely from my savings to promote short story writing and reading at a global level, has attracted millions from all over the globe.
In short, if you want to become a better writer, my advice would be that you begin with writing short stories.
This blog first appeared at The Huffington Posthere.