Hands up anyone out there who prefers to read short stories. Anyone? I’d be hard pressed to find anyone in my circle that will jump up and down about their latest short story finds. If you’re going to read anything, read a novel is what they’ll say. And in some ways, they are absolutely right.
As a reader, there are probably few things more satisfying than devouring a good novel in as few sittings as possible. It takes over your life, consciousness and ability to operate as a regular human being in the very best of ways. It leaves you spinning, not unlike falling in love, with a whirling, happiness that grows even further if you realise it’s book one of three, and the journey gets to continue. It’s a rush of feeling, of empathy, and a journey that’s hard to beat. Investing so much of yourself into someone’s story has a payoff that we all know is remarkable.
So where does that leave the shorter stories? The tales that still have to be told, that work their magic over a chapter or a few pages rather than an entire novel. In today’s time poor society, it seems to me that the short story is one of the least used goldmines, because it allows the reader to experience the complete story in a few minutes, rather than taking days from their schedules and lives. Sure, there’s not likely to be as much investment, there’s not time to fall deeply in sync with the lead characters or voices because it is over before we can make that bond. And with that missing, what is there to actually make a short story good? Is it one unforgettable moment? A world that strikes a chord with people? A concept that leaves the mind churning?
The answer is all of these, and none. It’s difficult to make an impression on general markets that are used to longer formats. It’s difficult to engage a readership that’s already moving away from traditional reading avenues in a tech heavy world. There are a multitude of publications out there that publish quality short fiction, yet they struggle to reach people who would enjoy that they have because the public still don’t know just how good it can be. Yet some of our best concepts and tales have come from shorter works. It’s not always necessary to have an epic amount of character and backstory when a pared down concept, and simple world building can get the point across just as well. A great idea will stay with you no matter how long the piece was that inspired it.
So next time you are in a break between novels, in that moment where the last great story is still lingering in your head and you’re reluctant to chase it away with another one just yet, pick up some shorter works and use them to reset your perceptions about what a short story really can do. You may be pleasantly surprised.