What Ever Happened to Short Stories?

Blog No. 69

Over on Adventure Worlds (and I’m going to make it my mission to mention it every post) we write short stories.  The stories vary in length, but they can confidently be placed in a short story category.  There are (so I’ve been told) very strict delineations for story categories based on length.  Personally I don’t really care about those specifics.  For me a short story is one that had one (or two) protagonists, one plot line and generally one idea or concept being explored.  That may be more in line with science-fiction, but that’s what I write, so that’s what I know.

We like to write short stories for a lot of reasons.  They allow us to explore a lot of topics and styles, and we don’t have to spend a lot of time on each story before moving on to the next.  It’s really the best way (I know of) for writers to quickly develop themselves and their writing.  Getting back to speaking for myself, I use short stories to figure out what kind of writer I am.  What are my sensibilities?  What is my style?  How do I approach a difficult topic?  What do my characters sound like?  I can use short stories to figure out all kinds of things about my writing.  I can also use them to find my weaknesses and try to improve them.  I’m not very good at adding description to my stories.  It’s not something I naturally do.  So I can write a very detailed short story and suss it all out.  It’s great to be able to use one story to try something new (or address an issue) then a few weeks later work on something else.

There is a whole huge tradition of short stories that I am only going to briefly touch on.  I’m no historian and I have no interest in telling anyone actual facts in my blog, so I’m going to keep it short and write like University students.  (I mean steal from Wikipedia).  Short stories go way back to when people used to pass down stories verbally.  A whole epic could take a long time to tell, so they were broken down into parts that could be told in one sitting.  Eventually people thought that writing was way cool, so things didn’t have to be memorized.  It was then that short stories developed.  (Let’s call it sometime in the 1700s).  Without any need to memorize a story, the only reason to have short parts was to tell whole stories that could be read in one sitting.  At one time it was common for almost all writers to have short story collections as well as novels and novellas.  This tradition still lives on today in literary circles.  But sadly it isn’t as prevalent in the wider arena of reading.  A lot of really good authors start with short stories.  They use them much in the same way I am using them and as a way to break into the industry and make a name for themselves before they finally publish novels.  I read a pretty cool article about short stories.  You should check it out.  (http://inktank.fi/short-stuff-everyone-read-short-stories/)

Speaking of novels.  I blame the rise of the novel for the decline of short story’s popularity.  Philip K. Dick (I don’t care how tired you are of my constant references to him) started writing short stories.  He initially saw writing as a business and in his early days there were dozens of magazines for every genre you can come up with.  Mystery, detective, fantasy, travel mystery, exploration fantasy, murder mystery, fantastic mystery and even mysterious fantasy.  But in Dick’s eyes, sci-fi was king of them all.  He wanted to sell his stories so he carefully crafted them to be accepted by the various publications.  Eventually the publications started to die off and he set his sights on writing novels, because they were fast becoming the standard for the reading public.  That whole episode is just a microcosm of the whole industry.  Short stories used to be their own art form and now they are simply a way for writers to get better and eventually write novels that will sell.

I’m not saying that I am better than that.  (It’s exactly the path I’m taking).  But I fell love with reading through short stories and I still love reading them.  I love writing them too.  There is a freedom in short stories.  I can try all kinds of things and just move on to another one.  I learn with every story I write and become a better writer.  Each story I finish is an imperfect experiment, but I love every one of them.  I feel like I explain a little bit more of who I am in each one.  Short stories are a great way to get a taste of what an author can do and it allows you to see many different faces of an author, which is what I need to do at this point of my career.  All the other Adventure Worlds contributors and I are working on a lot of things.  We keep adding to the pile and there are so many more things we want to get to eventually.  Short stories are the way we can explore a topic or idea and excise it, or even store it for later.  Yes, Christian and I are working on novels, but I think we will always be writing short stories.  There is no better way to stay fresh and keep trying new things.

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One thought on “What Ever Happened to Short Stories?

  1. Pingback: 004 : Size Doesn’t Matter (I Hope) | Fed to the Lions!

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