One of the biggest ways to grow as a creator, whether you’re new to the industry or a seasoned veteran, is by writing short stories. Short stories are often overlooked in the industry and although anthologies have been extremely popular over the years, individual stories aren’t often mentioned or praised in mainstream circles.
Short stories are notoriously hard to do and even harder to do well. Practicing and mastering the art of the short story can do wonders for you and your career. Here are a few examples of how they can help you:
Shorts make for excellent portfolio pieces for up and coming creator. When an editor isn’t familiar with you or your work, being able to showcase several shorts with a variety of styles and genres is significantly more valuable than one long-form piece. And not to say that you should try to write something in every genre and do something to find any work; you can tinker to see what works and more particularly, what you enjoy.
Make your portfolio pieces the types of stories that showcase your range and are indicative of the kind of work you’d like to do as a creator. It’s important to have some focus when it comes to building your brand as a creator, but that still can afford you options. For instance, if you want to write middle-grade or YA, that’s the audience to build but you can still work on different genres for those audiences.
I’ve got bad news for any creators going into the comics industry without any short story experience: very few artists will want to work with you. I don’t mean for this to sound harsh, but it’s true. If you’re a writer with not a lot of scripting work under your belt, artists will automatically be wary of you. It’s no secret that the art process in comics is significantly more intensive than the writing process. There’s no debate. Artists don’t want to be brought on board to a project with a creator who doesn’t understand how to write specifically for the medium. It tends to make their jobs that much harder.
You have to allow yourself some time to learn the craft and hone your voice for the medium. There are specific things to learn and in a collaborative medium, it’s the least you can do to make the rest of your team’s lives easier.
Another important reason to play around with short stories is for pacing, especially if you’re unfamiliar with writing for the medium. Writing a 10-page prose story is NOT the same as writing a 10-page comic script. There’s far less room for you to tell your story and you have to learn to condense your idea down and understand that you may not be able to fit everything in. Keeping your panel count to 5-6 panels per page is equally important here. You can’t just overwhelm your artist (and the reader) by thinking you can fill up the page with panels. The story will suffer if you try to cram too much in.
Short stories really force you to learn what’s important to your story and what can be left behind. Simplify an idea down to the bare bones, figure out what you absolutely need, and add flourishes where you can.
CHANGING BAD HABITS
There are a myriad of bad habits that can be formed as a writer. That’s not something exclusive to the comics industry; it’s just something that can happen to anyone. But with that being said, as you learn about some of those habits and try to break them, you can challenge yourself through the short story.
For instance, if over-narration is a thing you do, how can you work around that? Challenging yourself to write something that uses no dialogue or narration is a great way to practice this. How can you convey your story by solely relying on the art? It’s an important and excellent way for creators to learn the essential lesson: show don’t tell. Comics is a visual medium, and as a writer, you need to learn to trust that the art will tell more than you think it will. Learning to let go and put faith in the rest of your team is a great way to level up as a collaborator.
Continuing to learn and grow is an essential part of being a creator. If you don’t want your work to get stale and if you want your work to get better over time, practicing and trying new things are essential.
With a short story, it’s much easier to try out a new creative voice, to utilize a new script style or format, or to play with genres that are outside your comfort zone. When you dabble in something that’s 10-pages long, it’s easier to take risks and be less precious about the characters and what ultimately happens. And it’s much easier to evaluate your work and see what worked and what didn’t.
Telling a satisfying story is hard enough when you have 200+ pages to work with. It’s even harder when you only have 10-pages. To reiterate an earlier point, learning about what is essential to your story and what can be left out is a must to this art form. It pushes creators in different ways that help with your growth.
Even if you ultimately write short stories for you and you alone, practicing this art will make you a stronger creator in the end. If coming up with an idea for a short story is daunting, write fanfiction or do a spinoff of one of your other ideas. Tell a story that involves a side character, or try to elaborate on something you weren’t able to include in another project. There are lots of ways to form an idea that’s relatively low-stakes for you and still gives you the opportunity to practice.
Anthologies can give you a place to utilize these stories and get published, but even if you don’t come across one that’s a good fit for a specific story, you can still use the script itself as a portfolio piece to show to editors. But again, at the end of the day, short stories have so many additional merits that make them not just excellent portfolio pieces but brilliant educational exercises.