Yesterday I made a post about the fact that I’d like to try and learn how to write short stories more effectively. A treasure trove of info was passed on (thanks y’all!) and I’m working on making my own little short story blueprint. But anyway, in the comments, I mentioned that I don’t actually like short stories, which led to the “um, should you actually try to write them then?”
Well, first off, I think they are challenging, and I’m all about learning to do new things. I think learning to write short stories hones a very different set of skills from writing novels.
Second, I should qualify this statement by saying, I don’t like most of the short stories I’ve READ.
And I got to thinking about why that is.
For one, the bulk of the short stories I’ve read were the ones we’re forced to read in school, and therefore analyze to within a millimeter of their lives (what I think of as The Death Of A Thousand Cuts for any work of fiction). So that’s strike one. Whatever redeeming qualities there might have been were totally eradicated by mass education.
Most of them were by men because the traditional canon we’re forced to study in English class is very WASP dominated. I freely admit I’m sexist on this point and I don’t tend to enjoy a lot of work written by men. I find it boring. This is not to say that all work by men sucks. It doesn’t. They just inherently tend not to focus on the things I like to read about. Not my cup of tea, and that’s fine. But anyway, so yeah, strike two, the ones I’ve been exposed to were mostly not my bag to start with.
There is this tradition in short stories that is less prevalent now (I’m told) than it used to be that the focus of a short story was on the twist or the surprise rather than a legitimate resolution.
I find that totally unsatisfying as a reader.
I WANT a resolution. I’m not reading to be surprised or have the rug pulled out from under me. I’m reading for a resolution. To see a hero face a problem and overcome it. I don’t want some surprise ending where she or he dies. I don’t want to be slapped in the face. I want, if not a happy ending, at least to have everything tied up.
The happy ending thing is tricky. By default I want one. I’m a romance reader. There is enough not happy ending in the real world. But I think I’m more flexible on this point because these days a lot of the short stories I HAVE read and liked were shorts about characters that I either already know or want to get to know. They illustrate a pivotal event, make me want to read more. Or fill in some blanks. They give me a gift as a reader.
This idea of giving gifts to the reader is a big one for Susan, and one we talk about a lot.
Too often I’ve seen writers say, “I want to write a short story,” and they spew out a few thousand words in which…basically nothing happens. It is, at best, a character sketch. There’s no legitimate conflict, no resolution, nothing changes. Which makes for a total snore of a read.
So when I say I don’t like short stories, this is what I’m talking about. I am not averse to the concept of short, self contained stories. But I expect it to be all the things I love about a novel on a small scale–character development, conflict, something that changes, and a satisfying resolution. It is…the chocolate truffle of the fiction world as opposed to a full on bar of Godiva. Bite sized and totally satisfying. Which means that every single word has to do triple duty and good short stories are a crapton harder than longer work.
So when I say I don’t like short stories, I mean I don’t like MOST short stories because I think it’s something that most people DON’T do well.
That said, I am totally open to trying new ones! If you have any recs for some GOOD paranormal romance or YA or steampunk or contemporary romance short stories, LAY EM ON ME!