Recently, I’ve been reading some blog posts and discussions about short fiction: short stories, novelettes and novellas. In particular, these discussions have revolved around the fact that because of the e-book revolution, readers are once again embracing these much-maligned artforms.
Of course, we all know that newspaper and magazine writers have been trying to announce the pathetic demise of the short story for a couple of decades. Major magazines cut back or eliminated their fiction sections altogether and short story collections do not sell as well as full novels.
I’m not going to go on about any of this, however. Other writers who’ve studied all the data and have followed the trends can tell you about that. I’m simply going to tell you why, as both a reader and a writer, I love short fiction.
I love reading through the science fiction magazines and being able to completely switch gears between one story and the next. Short fiction allows me to absorb different types of stories. If I’m interested in a particular genre or sub-genre, short stories allow me to explore without committing to a full novel. I can get just a taste to see how it coats my palate. Reading a lot of short fiction also means that as a writer I can study many more plots, characters and ideas than if I only read novels. These can feed my own work; I can expand upon an idea a short story just touched upon, or develop a character based upon a character I read in another story. I know this sounds like stealing ideas but I’ll justify myself with two points. First, all writers get ideas from the things they read. An artful writer can take an idea and make it his own by giving it a unique twist. You’ve heard the expression “There are no new ideas,” haven’t you? It’s absolutely true. Second, by reading many different stories, one is less likely to inadvertently be too inspired by any one story (and risk the chance of actually stealing ideas).
Sometimes I just don’t feel like committing myself to a novel that’ll take ten or so hours to read. If I want to do some reading without starting on another novel, short stories fit the bill. They’re great for filling in those odd gaps of time while you’re traveling, waiting around for appointments, etc. They also provide a nice respite if you find yourself in the middle of a particularly long or slow-going book. As a reader of Henry James, I find this is often the case!
I've heard about a great book that everyone is raving about. But there’s something about the reviews or the premise of the novel that gives me pause. If the author has any short stories available I have a chance to try out his or her work and see if it’s right for me. Or, sometimes I’ll just find a short story on Amazon and download it knowing nothing about the author. Short stories allow me to do this without a large investment of time or money, in case that particular writer just isn’t my cup of tea.
Short stories give writers a chance to explore, to try things that they might not if they felt they had to commit to an idea for a full novel. Short stories allow authors to dabble in other genres and explore those weird, unsellable ideas without feeling as though they wasted two or three months writing a novel no one will buy. But those stories are often the most interesting for those same reasons. They are not “safe,” they do not fit the mold, they are not mainstream.
As a writer this last point is of particular interest to me. Not all of those weird story ideas will work, but those that did work I consider to be among my strongest pieces. Unfortunately, magazine editors don’t agree! This is one of the reasons I’ve embraced self-publishing. In fact, one very short story I self-published called Sleep has become my most-rated work to date. I also have a collection of three short stories called Inner Lives. These are what I would call quiet, literary stories in the speculative vein. I am quite proud of them but they won’t interest all readers and, indeed, did not interest magazine editors but they have been well-received since being released as an ebook.
If you haven’t really given short stories a try I think you will find yourself pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety that is out there. Here in this blog I have mentioned and commented on several short stories that I’ve read. Give them a try and, if you like, have a look at my short stories as well.
Edit: I have now release a full, book-length collection of ten short stories called... wait for it... Short Stories. Read more about it here.
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