Stephen King on the Craft of Short Story Writing

In this interview with Rich Fahle of Bibliostar.TV, bestselling author Stephen King discusses the art of writing short stories and short fiction, and the fact that many writers today forgo the short story in lieu of the novel, sometimes before they’re ready. King, who counts 10 short story collections among his prolific body of work, began his career with with collections and individual stories coming throughout his 40-plus year writing career.

As King explains, “the art of miniaturization” is a difficult craft, requiring constant care and focus to stay sharp.

“It’s the kind of thing where a lot of writers, who sell a fair number of copies and can support themselves with their writing—and we’re very fortunate to be able to do that—have a tendency to think of the novel, and once you get your mind set on the novel, it’s very easy to lose whatever trick it is that involves writing the short story,” he said.

“There is a little metaphor in the introduction (to Just After Sunset) where I said I could imagine some craftsman from the Middle Ages forgetting how to make Toledo steel and just looking sort of sadly at a botched job and saying, ‘I really used to remember how to make this stuff.’”

On the other side, the attraction of the novel is sometimes impossible to resist for new authors, many of whom are still learning their way forward as writers.

“I think too, that the novel is a quagmire that a lot of younger novels stumble into before they’re ready to go there,” King said. “There was a piece in the Boston Globe where their columnist enumerated a number of great short story writers who have not written any short stories in a while, and you ask them why, and the same reason is given time after time, ‘well, I’m writing a novel.’ And so the short story production dries up.”

King’s own career began with short stories in the early 1970s, when he first began selling short fiction to magazines. Many of those early stories can be found in the author’s 1978 story collection, Night Shift. Since then, there have been dozens of additional short stories and novellas, many of which went on to become movies, including “The Body” (which became Stand by Me) and “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (The Shawshank Redemption) and “Children of the Corn.”

Said King, “I started with short stories when I was 18, sold my first one when I was about 20. And produced pretty much nothing but short stories. I wrote a couple of novels, but they were not accepted and a lot of them were so bad that I didn’t even bother to revise them, but the short stories were making money and I got very comfortable with that format and I’ve never wanted to leave it completely behind.”

Stephen King Short Story Collections
Night Shift, 1978
Different Seasons 1982
Skeleton Crew, 1985
Four Past Midnight, 1990
Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1993
Hearts in Atlantis, 1999
Everything’s Eventual, 2002
Just After Sunset, 2008
Stephen King Goes to the Movies, 2009
Full Dark, No Stars, 2010


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