Ahhhh, the short story. An underrepresented mode of writing, for sure. Even I’m guilty of ignoring the short story. For most of my writing life, I was either interested in poems or chasing the dream of all dreams, a novel.
The problem with novels is they’re, well, big. It takes a while to get through them, and as you’re trucking through it you see some brand new, shiny idea in the distance and break off to chase that one instead. So you end up with about fifty beginnings of novels, and nothing else. Plus, you’ve got to fit so much into a novel, so many characters and subplots and settings. Sometimes you haven’t got a big enough idea for a full blown novel.
That’s where short stories can save your life. They’re usually not super short – mine are usually ten pages or so, but they might be long – but they’re definitely not full blown novels. They allow you to view a tiny cross section of a world, a day in the life, if you will. You don’t have to drag protesting characters through situation after ridiculous situation to hit the hundred page mark. And before you get bored, you’re done. I can write a good sized first draft in four or five days, if I’m working hard on it.
Short stories are more of an art form than novels. Novels are so often written to sell – cookie cutter romances and mysteries engineered to be read on a lazy afternoon by someone who is sick of watching TV. Not all novels are like this, but far too many are. And it’s hard to find enough deep and poignant stuff to fill 100 + pages. In a short story, you can be deeper, more thoughtful. A reader of a short story is more often someone who wants to think and experience, not just kill time. It’s more than entertainment, it’s enlightenment.
I’ve waxed lyrical over the pros of short stories. But what are the cons? Unfortunately, deep, poignant, short pieces of literature aren’t that popular with the general audience. And if you do manage to get a short story published in a literary magazine, the income might be $20 a page or something. Barely enough to cover the stamps. Basically, don’t expect short stories to pave your way for life. But if you love to write, but can never make your way through a novel, give short stories a try. I did, and I fell in love.
Tom Gauld illustration. http://www.doobybrain.com/2009/03/07/funny-illustrations-by-tom-gauld/