Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lost arts

How many of us have been asked if you have written a novel and seem to disappoint the askee when you tell them you write short stories or flash fiction. "Oh sure," you tell them, sometimes to appease their prying stares, "I am working on a novel." you watch as their eyes light up. It is then you realize that they have no clue what an art form the short story actually is.

You think about it a minute as they ask the inevitable question, "What is your book about?" They don't bother to ask about the shorts. They don't care about the flashes of brilliance that they could actually read because they have been picked up, and paid for, by some editor. They want to know about the novel. The work that will be a labor of love because, chances are, no publisher will ever touch it because it was written by a short story writer.

Do these people understand the depths that go into writing a piece shorter than 10,000 words or even 50,000 words. The novel writers do. I have heard many a novelist who marveled at the expediency of the short story, they themselves unable to lay down a tale in under 85,000 words.

I just wonder when the rest of the world will catch on.

11 comments:

Aaron Polson said...

I promote the form every day in school. The short story is alive and well; folks just need to have their hands held as we lead them to the promised land.

When done well, a short story can be the most beautiful of all written expression, surpassing even poetry (in my humble opinion).

Jamie Eyberg said...

I think we are on the cusp of a resurgence into a new golden age of the short story. With the advent of more electronic media I can really see it making a comeback into the mainstream. (Not unlike what Hemmingway and his literary brethren did in the 30's and 40's)

Rob Brooks said...

I have seen many a disappointed face when I tell people, no, I haven't written a novel. And I'm pretty sure I've got friends who think that my short story writing is juvenile and a waste of time. I can hear it when we talk.

And I agree with your statement above, Jamie. With new electronic media and people's shortening attention span, I think it will be easier for people to pick up and read a short story on a digital device while waiting in a doctor's office than it would be for them to get invested in a whole book, especially when they coudl theoretically carry hundreds or thousands of stories on said digital device.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I'm with Jamie and Rob...I don't know when, I don't know where...but it seems inevitable that the short story will finally get cred (or, at least, a larger audience) soon. I mean, c'mon, if tweets are considered meaningful dialogue, and txts r rly tlkng, it just seems to fit the model.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I don't remember being exposed to many short stories in school. Novels were held up as the end goal of writing, either that or long books of poetry.

A few people ask me about the short stories, I can't remember any of them being american. Makes me wonder if it's cultural etiquette or short stories mean more in other countries.

Barry Napier said...

This is why I have a problem completing novels...not for the lack of motivation, but because I find myself returning to short stories. In many cases, I think short stories are harder to write than novels. It seems easier to make a reader connect with a character in 300-700 pages...doing it in 2-3 can be rather tricky.

Danielle Ferries said...

For me it takes a lot more discipline to write a short story and at the moment I'm enjoying writing them much more than my novel.

BT said...

It seems to me that writers use short stories as a training ground. We hone our craft in the short version before branching out into novels.

It's like walking before running and I think most readers think that way as well.

It's not - many good writers only write shorts - and that's okay.

Many readers will get hold of an anthology of the greats and are quick to say how great they think it is. They are not so quick to give emerging writers that chance.

But with the release of Just After Sunset, the Kindle, and the Sony e-reader, many more people are being groomed to read short fiction.

Felicity is releasing a chap book and I've noticed a few markets springing up for these.

People have less time and more opportunity to access good short work. Masters of Sci-Fi and Masters of Horror on FOX have short movies made from short stories on a regular basis.

The form is being validated more and more.

If you have shorts you're proud of and have had published, keep printed versions of them on hand at home. When someone asks, offer them a copy to read.

Once you have wowed them with that, the next question will be "Have you written a novel?" - and that's okay, because now you can launch into your grand plan. You can tell them a novel isn't for you, or how the short is going to be huge with all the new electronica around, or how you're currently working on the next great piece of literature everyone's grandkids will be studying in school.

Novels will always be the pinnacle, but we should do all we can to ensure shorts aren't sold short.

Geez, I can ramble...

Jamie Eyberg said...

lots of good stuff in this topic, I can tell there may be a sequel. . .

K.C. Shaw said...

I have such trouble writing short fiction that I'm seriously in awe of people who do it well. Writing novels is comparatively easy--there's lots of room to develop ideas, describe stuff, have characters change and grow, work in subplots, etc. In a short story, you've only got a few thousand words to get across the plot, theme, characters, setting, and prose, AND you have to make it fast-paced so you don't lose your reader. That's a major challenge.

Robert said...

I agree with K.C. -- with novels there's a lot of room to move around, and if you make a mistake or two, it's no big thing, almost unnoticable ... but in a short story, where every word counts, if you make one misstep, it's obvious. And yes, with people's ever-shrinking attention spans, flash flash flash fiction is the way of the future -- if they can't read something in an minute, they'll skip it to continue playing online poker.