Thursday, March 3, 2011

Are short stories content? Or filler?

I'm fairly active on various writer/reader forums.  I find it's a good way to let people know about my work and to discover new authors whose work I might actually like to read.

An interesting comment that I see coming from a lot of authors is that they say they write short stories "between" novels.  Like the short story is an appetizer or palate refresher between main courses.  It's a mindset that made me realize that the problem with short stories these days is not the reader, it's the writer.

Personally, I think people are perfectly willing to try out a quality short story.  When I do story giveaways, I've never come across a person who says "Oh, sorry, I'm only interested in stories that are over 10,000 words."  But I think many writers feel guilty about trying to interest people in a short story.

Consequently, short stories often retain the stigma of being "filler."  The author spends most of their time promoting their novel and the short stories are just something that are nice to list off on a resume.  They fall by the wayside like they were never written at all.

Perhaps authors feel they're ripping off the reader?  There isn't enough quantity to justify the quality?  This should not be the case.  A quality short story can be just as entertaining as a quality novel.  They simply fulfill a different need.  Short stories are actual content and every short story author should view them on a plane equal to that of a novel.

9 comments:

  1. I don't get that myself, tho' I haven't tried to sell my short stories directly to readers. It might be the difference between genre writers (especially SF/F) and literary writers. In SF/F there's a vigorous periodical scene, both online and in print, and there has been for decades. Writing short stories has traditionally been the path to selling your first novel in the genre.

    Yet, consider this: if anyone can publish their own short fiction, and the magazines diminish, what will the attitude towards short fiction be across all genres? Will it still be seen as legit, or will the filler view prevail?

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  2. If short fiction became a viable option for most readers, I don't think it would make magazines diminish. I mean, short story authors still need to spread their name just like the rest of them. So magazine that feature this sort of writing could still host contests and feature writers.

    In many ways, short stories have an advantage over longer works in that regard. A magazine could feature an ENTIRE work as opposed to just snippets.

    The purpose of a magazine is to amass a group of readers. That's their power. An author tries to achieve the same thing but there will always be new authors.

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  3. Couldn't agree more; short stories are a separate art form, not truncated novels or promotional material for novels.

    Would 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson be six times better if it was six times the length?

    I'll be writing short stories until they prise the pen out of my cold dead hand...

    James

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  4. "Would 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson be six times better if it was six times the length?"

    This ^^ is an excellent observation. It actually gave me another blog idea. Would you mind if I quote you?

    I love that story, btw. It was my first short story and it made such an impact! Before that story, I had no idea that I enjoyed slightly twisted endings. Now, that's my favorite style when writing my own short stories.

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  5. Aw, James beat me to it! The whole while I was reading your post, Alain, that story was running through my head.
    Or, rather, my reaction to it. I think I was in the seventh grade when I was required to read that, and I'll never forget how I felt when I finished it: horrified, nauseous, and really, really excited.
    There just isn't a better example of a perfectly encapsulated short story than The Lottery.

    Shana Hammaker
    Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011

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  6. I will quote you too, Shana. I was thinking a blog on "The Lottery" should be in order. Because that story really does stand out as a prime example. It's everything a short story should be and people who read it NEVER think "Oh, it would have been worthwhile if it had been 10,000 words longer."

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  7. Alain, feel free to quote me!

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  8. p.s. I created this thread on Amazon to get a list of 99 great Kindle short stories. Take a look if you are interested...

    It starts with The Lottery, natch.

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/kindle%20book/forum/ref=cm_cd_tfp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx3RFWX8IMGF85E&cdThread=Tx1045W87CI5XP7&displayType=tagsDetail

    James

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  9. Ooo... really good idea. I have three stories in mind I could add. But I'll have to see if they're available on Amazon. That makes it tricky!

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