Short Stories are Not Dead
I am a fan of short stories. I read them and enjoy them. Genre magazines and short story collections adorned my bookshelf. I look forward to them. Why do I enjoy short fiction so much?
Shorter fiction is underrated. Shorter fiction is strong and satisfying.
The beauty of short stories and novelettes (and to a lesser extent, novellas) is that you can read them in one sitting. One and done, usually before bedtime. No need for a ‘to be finished’ or ‘to be continued’.
For years doomsayers have predicted short stories are dead. And yet, they endure. Perhaps it is because people are busier; perhaps their attention span has decreased.
Regardless of reasons, the dead of the short story has been reported only to see them stubbornly appearing and gaining popularity.
Last year alone saw four wonderful short story collections:
- Garner Dozois’ sword and sorcery anthology The Book of Swords (2017
- The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Shurin and Murad (2017)
- Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity Wars (2017)
- Neil Clarke’s space opera reprint anthology Galactic Empires (2017).
With such a quality selection of big-name authors collected in these anthologies, who would dare say short stories are dead? For us fans, it is a treat to have them collected together. Almost like your own hit parade album in book form.
Indeed, short story anthologies are good value, especially when written by various authors since it exposes you to different styles and voices.
Why Do You Need to Write Short Stories?
As an author, you may wonder what is the point of writing short stories. You could argue they don’t pay much and people rather read novels. Nonetheless, do not dismiss the shorter formats yet.
First, short stories are purer. You have a limited word count, therefore you need to get to the point fast.
In a sense, they are liberating. Not dozens of characters and settings to follow, no pages and pages of flashbacks and backstory, no juggling several subplots. None of that. Only one plot, few characters, no filler.
Second, you may choose to write a short story because you may not have a lot to say. You have a story idea but you know it does not need four hundred pages to be told.
Third, a novel may take a year to write and revise, a year to edit and prepare, another one to see publication. A short story can be written over a weekend and see publication within months. Indeed, they are a way to remain current and in your reader’s sight between novels.
Fourth, do not forget most industry titans began as short story writers.
Having one or several short stories published by reputable magazines is one of the easiest ways to catch an agent’s attention.
Also, another advantage for writers is with short stories you can experiment and leave your imagination run wild.
Want to try a different voice, a different genre, a different point of view, a different tone? Short stories are a safe way to do so without alienating your current fan base.
What Do You Need to Write a Short Story?
Writing short stories is not that much different than writing a novel.
The main difference is one of scope.
Whereas novels can have a large cast and generational plot lines, a short story’s scope is smaller and more intimate.
Despite its limitations in scope and length, short stories and novels and not that different. You need the same ingredients to produce them.
Plot, characters, theme, just simplified.
You need a basic idea and a central conflict (otherwise known as plot). You need a protagonist and an antagonist (characters).
Moreover, you need suspense. In effect, in short stories, it pays to restrict the information you give your reader.
You can also create suspense by keeping the villain ahead of the hero.
Also remember, for suspense to work, your reader needs to care about your protagonist. Empathy is key.
Make the reader care, then bring jeopardy. Play in your reader’s fears and make them personal.
Finally, in a short story, you want to give the reader more promise and less action. The set-up at the beginning has to pay off at the end. Note the timeless short stories have twist endings you don’t see coming but do not feel cheap to the reader in retrospect.
I like to write my stories backward, with an ending in mind before I sit down. Whenever I do otherwise, the story takes forever to finish. Make every scene important to your readers.
Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised. Writing short stories is a good way to maintain our writing skills healthy. Long live the short story format!
Reader, are you a fan of short stories? Do you prefer longer fiction? Are you a fan of both? Share your thoughts.
NOTE: the cover image is of Nobel Prize in Literature, Chilean poet, and short story writer, Gabriela Mistral. Read her stuff.