I didn’t know until May 26th that May is Short Story Month and only because I received an e-mail from a Anne R. Allen’s blog . In the article, it extolled the advantages of writing short stories vs. novels.
Some of the points in the article got me thinking about my own writing aspirations as well as the pro-short story arguments.
Personally, I love novels. I guess it’s because I’ve always had an attention span. I love the build-up. I will stick with a story if it is paced just right even epic, behemoth novels. I need and want that background. I need the time to have the characters fleshed out. I can read a novel faster than I can a short story collection. With a short story collection, I find myself flipping through the pages more to see when the story will end. I will groan if I see that it doesn’t end for a while. I guess I could just skip to the next story but I have this odd thing that I should finish a story. The author put in all that time and effort, the least I can do is finish a 10 page story. For example, it took me about 2.5 weeks to get through a 177 page short story collection. In comparison, a 260 page book I got through in about 8 hours. Naturally some of this is due to the content of the story itself.
The biggest reason for the resurgence of short-stories is due to people’s decreasing attention spans coupled with many small screen digital devices. Short stories and flash fiction, an even shorter story, are easily digestible. That’s fine however, I’m not sure encouraging people to become even less engaged in long-term critical thinking is a good thing. We are already far too much of a disposable society. When it comes to something I feel is as sacred as the written word, shorter isn’t always better. I’m not saying all short stories are poorly written or can’t say anything, then can and do, but it dismays me to see further erosion into ‘this bores me already’ culture. It’s a further dumbing down and boosts short-term gratification.
In my opinion, novellas and novels more fully engage the reader to think deeper about the characters, issues, themes, plots, and subplots. More subtext can be developed. A reader can take the necessary time to appreciate what is going on. With a short story, you read the story then move on. It’s just an appetizer and if you feast solely upon appetizers, you will never get full. Whereas a novella or novel, I can have an appetizer, move through several courses, and then have dessert; a much more satisfying experience. It will stay with me longer. And maybe even give me heartburn.
As a beginning writer, I view composing short stories as training wheels. I need to cut my teeth and learn how to craft all the elements that go into a story. Writing short stories allows me to do that. It helps build my confidence in what my abilities are before I tackle a novel, the writing form I’m most interested in. One point mentioned in the article noted above is the author’s own admission of viewing short story writing as just practice before graduating to novels. For me, I equate it with learning to crawl before being able to walk and run. I don’t feel my skill level is up to tackling a full-blown novel. There are too many things to think about and to practice but then again, I’m a pretty cautious person.
Another advantage I am finding to writing short stories is the ability to play with different genres. I believe as I’ve mentioned in one of my first posts, I’m a fan of different genres; I’ll read anything if it sounds interesting so why should I limit myself to just one? It’s about the story, not the category it fits into. And with short stories, I can do that. I just finished a Victorian vampire story but I’ve also written a Steampunk-inspired pirate story, a story inspired the bombing of Hiroshima, a priest reflecting back to an incident in his childhood in Spain, and a reanimated corpse stuck in a county morgue, to mention just a few.
The idea, though, of sticking strictly to short stories, has never crossed my mind. True, writing a short story takes a much shorter commitment of overall time than a novel does. And it is more efficient in terms of per year production. And it probably is a more lucrative way to make money as an author, but my heart loves novels. Maybe it sounds pretentious or naïve, but a good majority of the story ideas I have saved on my hard drive feel like they require a few hundred pages to be developed properly. Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment.