I have heard people say at Cons, “The only people reading short stories are writers” or comments like this. I’m not sure that’s true at all. But I would certainly accept that novels/novellas outsell short stories. Readers prefer long fiction to short. This is the way of things.
So I present a defence for the short story and why we all should spend more of our money on magazines and anthologies that publish them…
Short Stories are a Quicker Read
Can I put it any simpler? I can fit one or two short pieces into my morning train ride whereas I’m only ever going to get a few chapters of my novel read. That means reading something (or somethings) from end to end between stops, covering off an entire story arc, having closure, taking the story with me through the day to ponder. In a short piece, I get a world + a character + plus a challenge the same as I would a novel, but it’s resolved quickly and I’m on with my day.
Short Story Collections Expose the Reader to Multiple Authors
Nothing beats burying myself in my favourite author’s latest 400-page novel, savouring a long journey through a new world toward the resolution of conflicts and quests. But an equal-length anthology enables me to meet 10 or 20 different authors with a variety of styles and creations and themes and characters in the same amount of pages and time and $$. There are some incredible writers out there who are only writing short fiction. I mean this. If I didn’t read shorts, I’d have been deprived of ever discovering them.
Short Stories Maintain Tension and Pace better than Novels (mostly)
It’s tough to maintain high tension and high pace on every page of a 450 page paperback. But ten or twenty pages of short fiction can do just that.
Short Stories = Exposure for Authors
Many many authors get their start in short fiction before selling their first novel. Story sales and readers for them create a meaty portfolio, enable them to develop their art and platform, bring them into community with other great writers and editors. Whenever you or I purchase a short story magazine or anthology, we support this “farming” of talent.
Where I’d start reading if I was starting on short fiction now…