Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I Write Short

By: R. T. Lawton

Some novelists say they can’t write short stories because that format is too narrow for all of what they want to say. I, on the other hand, have what may be a short attention span, plus, I can see from here to there—picture me with hands held shoulder length apart—but a novel is from here to way over there—hands much, much further apart. 

For me to write a novel, it would have to come out as twenty or more short stories in the same storyline. The other reason I write short can be attributed to a desire for more instant gratification. You see, I can write and submit and get paid for more short stories in a year than most novelists can do the same for novels in that year. Yeah, I know an author with a novel at the top of the heap will make more money on that one book, but there’s not many authors who are up there, and that’s not my game.

Whether you write short or write long, the basic elements are still necessary. You’ve got to have an interesting storyline, strong characters (preferably a likable protagonist), a setting and background that appeals to the editor and readers and an ending that satisfies. Having your characters evoke emotion in your readers helps a bunch. I was lucky enough to make one editor cry over one of my stories. And, you still have to network with editors, other authors and anyone else involved with the publishing world in order to find out what publishing possibilities may be available and to get your name and face out there. 

You may have noticed by now that I haven’t said anything about agents. That’s because agents rarely handle short stories. Doesn’t hurt to know a few just in case you do decide to write a novel after using short stories as a stepping stone, but in the meantime, you can skip the services and fees of an agent.

Short stories tend to have less characters to create and keep track of, and in my experience, I find short stories lend themselves to easy series. I currently have five different series being published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. To keep these going, and as an aid to avoid writer’s block, I usually have two to four story starts on the white computer screen at the same time. If I get tired of a particular character or hit a stumbling block in one story, then it’s no problem to switch to one of the other story starts and keep on writing. Sooner or later, one or more of those story starts will get finished and then submitted to the proper market because my brain will work on story speed bumps in my sleep and I’ll wake up with a solution to one of those speed bumps holding me back. If I were wrestling with a novel, my brain would probably be wasting time going around and around with the same speed bump every night, and thus little progress for me.

Most of my stories come in between 3,500 words and 6,200 words. At Alfred Hitchcock, that’s eight cents a word. Nice paycheck for time invested. Anthologies have varying rates, to include some that pay royalties or even advance and royalties, such as the Mystery Writers of America's annual anthologies. And then there’s Woman’s World magazine that pays $500 for a 700 word mini-mystery. That’s more than seventy cents a word, but you really have to write short for that market. I have ten mini-mysteries published with them. You don’t have much room for many adjectives or wasted words in one of these. I often find myself over-writing and then paring down to meet the word count.

Everyone writes different and has different interests. If you are dedicated to writing a novel, then I wish you well and I hope I get to read your book. Plus, that’s less competition for me. Although, you just might dip your hand into the short story market sooner or later, like some novelists do, in order to showcase your novel’s protagonist. You may see this as a form of advertising your book and getting paid for your effort. And, if you’re one of those writers who’s trying your hand at the short story markets as your main thing, come on in, the water’s fine. Diversify the various markets in your genre, learn what sells and why, and then keep on writing and submitting.

About the Author: R.T. Lawton is a retired federal law enforcement agent, a past member of the Mystery Writers of America board of directors and a two-time Derringer nominee with over 100 short stories in various publications, to include The Mystery Box ( 2013 MWA anthology), And All Our Yesterdays anthology, Who Died in Here? anthology, Deadwood Magazine, Easyriders, Outlaw Biker, Woman's World magazine, and 34 in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. He also has four e-books at and Smashwords for other e-readers.


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has multiple stories open at a time!

    1. Shannon, you're going to give R.T. a run for his short-story money! He makes some awesome points here, doesn't he?

  2. Good observations, RT, and good advice. I share your love of writing short vs. writing long, and--like you--most of my stories seem to fall between 4K and 7K.

    Congrats on your great track record at AHMM, and your other recent successes too.

  3. I'm another one who loves writing short stories, RT, for all the reasons you mentioned. I also love reading them, so as long as you and John Floyd keep writing them, you'll have an audience here.

  4. Shannon, I'll be expecting big things of you.

    Donnell, thanks for the opportunity to talk about writing to other writers.

    John, you and your stories seem to be everywhere. See you at the Bouchercon anthology signing in New Orleans.

    Earl, I've been keeping track of you and your stories through Short Mystery Fiction Society for several years now.

    keep on writing, R.T.

  5. Great points. R. T. I must admit I have never thought to keep a couple of stories open at the same time. I do keep a running list of what to work on, but you just made my writing life a lot easier. Thanks. I love reading all three of you, R. T., John, and Earl.


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