Short stories are back in style. Were they ever out, you ask. Well, yes. During the long and powerful reign of big-name corporate publishers, it was difficult to make much headway with short fiction. Authors were always told a number of things about short stories, and they believed them. So did the reading public. What were these things?
Image via Wikipedia Raymond CarverShort stories do not sell. It was utterly pointless sending a collection to a publisher or agent as a new author. Collections were not bought because of the myth that collections do not sell. They do, of course - just not in the quantities that would make them viable as competition for novels. And the big publishers compete against each other using novels and non-fiction, so it was rather pointless offering something they could not play with.
Short stories by successful authors are the only viable proposal. Despite the success of Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus and Annie Proulx with short stories, before they published novels, this myth was repeatedly put about by those who found them hard to understand.
Image via Wikipedia Andre DubusShort stories are not taken seriously by readers. Readers have always loved and sought short stories - and verifying this truth is easy when one remembers the popularity of short story journals, anthologies and magazines. The New Yorker readers thrived on some of the best short fiction authors of the last century had to offer.
The number of movies based on short stories can be counted in hundreds: literally. Because of its succinct, distilled quality of prose, a short story lends itself to action, and the necessarily visual quality of film. No words are wasted on heavy description, and the director can go to town with interpretation.
In the 21st century, readers live lives dictated by the clock and the various digital appliances they carry about. Time is tight, and reading is done in snatches, in the oddest of places. Nothing lends itself better to this situation than the short story, which can be grabbed and digested in a very limited window of opportunity. I can think of nothing better than waiting at the dentist (which I have done a bit of lately) armed with a Kindle and a nice virtual stack of short stories by a number of varied authors.
Time seems to shrink-wrap itself around a short story, especially if it is of the quality that takes on enormous dimensions, with impressions to match. The impact of one of Andre Dubus's stories is equal, if not greater, to that of a great novel: it stays in the memory just as long, and its premise has the concentration and balance that takes all the genius an author can muster. There is much, much more play with words and juggling with spaces and suspense in a piece of short fiction.
Way back in the 90s, short fiction was my genre. Short stories might be easy to read, but they are the devil to write well. They need an entirely different mind-set and game plan to a novel, and they require mastery of vocabulary and what writing teachers like to term 'strong' verbs. They are a challenge, and great fun to write. And I wrote many.
My latest one is called The Beige Porsche, and is one of a series that uses cars as a vehicle (ha! couldn't resist that one). I would appreciate comments on whether you like short fiction, have ever bought or read it, and whether writing it is as much a challenge to you as it feels to me.