Educating the Short Story Reader

I think one of the biggest public dangers a short story writer faces is ignorance.  Now I'm not saying that everyone should know everything.  Nor am I calling anyone who doesn't read/understand short stories stupid.  But I am saying that short stories are a topic not widely discussed which therefore leads to a lot of misconceptions.

What do I mean by not widely discussed?  I mean people just don't really talk about them.  Period.  A TV show, for example, is something widely discussed.  So even if a person never watched TV at all they could probably give a fairly accurate definition of what a TV show is and probably explain to some degree how a TV show differs from a movie.  It's part of our culture and, therefore, an understood entity.

Short stories are not a large part of our culture.  At least, not in the same way books are.  The term itself (short story) seems somewhat self-explanatory.  The reader feels no need to research the purpose of the short story because they already feel like they know what it is.  It's a story.  And it's short.

Well, a book is a story, no?  Would you describe a TV show as a short movie?  Of course not.  There is no way I would classify Star Trek episodes as the same type of entertainment as Ben-Hur.  People get TV shows and movies.  They understand the premise of each and don't expect them to be the same.

Most people don't get short stories.  I think the average reader goes into shorter works expecting them to be like a book.  So the enemy is not really the short story and it's not how much the short story costs.  It's the ignorance.

If short stories are ever going to make a comeback in this ebook revolution, I think that people who do get short stories need to make a concerted effort to educate readers.  Not everyone has to like short stories.  But people should or shouldn't like them for what they are, not what they thought a short story should be.

Comments

  1. Could be that part of the problem is how readers have gotten short stories. Traditionally you found them in magazines or collections. Readers didn't have to look for short stories; they looked for their genre or an author they liked and found short stories. So the adjustment might be to encourage them to seek out short fiction the same way they have sought out novels.

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  2. I think you bring up a good point, Robert. Short stories aren't even on the radar for most readers. Short story writers are having to reinvent the wheel on this one.

    That's actually why I started that other blog, Short Story Symposium. I wanted to try and make shopping for shorter works easier AND the primary focus of the shopping experience.

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  3. As it happens, Dean Wesley Smith posted this link to Lawrence Block's blog late last night; it's Block's take on the future of short stories:

    http://lawrenceblock.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/whither-the-short-story/

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  4. Cool article. Thanks for the link. I liked this line in particular:

    "And, if it’s a slow way to get rich, it’s also a hard way to lose money."

    That's a really good point. A lot of writers turn their nose up at the short story completely ignoring the fact that you can crack them out much faster than a novel.

    More stories means more name recognition. It also means you could reasonably be making an extra $100 every month. That's a nice dinner or two.

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  5. Great piece! Check out the Facebook page some of us from Amazon have started. It's called Lunchtime Literates. The premise of the group is to share work that people could finish reading in the time of a lunch break. Come on over to Facebook and join us.

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  6. Thanks for the suggestion! I'll check it out.

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