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Why Short Stories Are Still Important

August 5, 2007

Issue 81 of the Secrets Newsletter came out the other day, and it was about character change and growth, and the difference between the two, and it was a case of right-advice-at-right-timeism for me, because it helped me understand what is wrong with Caldera so far (or at least one of the major issues, I have no doubt that I will find more as I learn and grow as a writer). The problem is that although my prose is perfectly readable, Caden’s (the main character) story just isn’t emotionally engaging after the first chapter. It won’t take too much work to fix this, I don’t think, because its in there, it just needs to be brought into the foreground a little more.

My next thought was to apply this to the short story that I’m currently writing, and it helped a lot there, as well. All of which brought to mind a post I read on Whatever recently, about the decline in pay for short stories, where Scalzi basically wonders what effect the stagnation of the short story markets has on short fiction itself.

Now, I know that I’ve heard this before, but short stories, in addition to being an important art form in and of themselves, are important as a method of developing writing skill. The first reason is that short stories are harder to write. With a novel, you have 80,000+ words to get what you want to say down, in a short story, you have less than 15,000, and although they are often used for different types of stories, no matter how you look at it, that’s a lot less space, and so requires more skill to do well. The second reason is that, due to that compression, things are more obvious. In a novel, you have all those words over which your characters should subtly grow, but in a short story, you only have a fraction, so it is usually easier to pick out the elements, and is therefore more useful as a tool.

Now we need a revival of those markets (although I suspect that many of the traditional short story markets will have to make some tough choices or die). That is a post on its own, though, and I’ll have to put it off for some other time, as I should be writing/climbing/making waffles.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. storyofnadia permalink
    August 5, 2007 11:23 am

    Oh, what I would give to flip to the back of a magazine and find a short story there. Those days are gone. I used to love starting at the back of a magazine.

  2. August 5, 2007 11:41 am

    Oddly enough, I always start at the back of any magazine I read, too, regardless of what sort of magazine it is.

    As for the heyday of magazines, who knows, maybe those days will be back. I think that the future of the short story markets will be heavily reliant on the internet, but once a model is figured out, I think that it will be possible to use that as a means of restarting the magazines. Time will tell, though.

    I’ll definitely write more on the subject sometime next week.

  3. rothakelly permalink
    August 5, 2007 12:52 pm

    I agree we desperately need a revival of traditional markets, or some new medium. It’s depressing, sending off stories with a reading fee, knowing that even if it is accepted you’ll be “paid” with a subscription to the magazine, or even just the one your story is in.

    I’ve been working–I’m an aspiring writer, by which I mean a secretary :)–in a bit of a cheat style, a novel- or novella-length piece in short stories. Overlapping characters in one, larger storyline in another. I wonder if that makes it any more marketable (at least without ‘Ya Ya’ in the title that is).

  4. August 6, 2007 3:25 pm

    storyofnadia:

    I clearly wasn’t thinking straight yesterday. I just realized that you were talking about opening up a regular magazine (like Wired or Road & Track) and reading a short story in the back of it. I miss that too, but I guess that I had almost forgotten about them. Unfortunately, if they do come back, I imagine that it will be through online magazines, where you don’t have the same limitations as paper.

    rothakelly:

    I think that we are already seeing a new medium, podcasting. I don’t know what you write, so I can’t speak to that, but I do know that in genre fiction, paying markets are starting to appear, for example, escape pod, which is just fantastic.

    As for reading fees, I would be wary of them. You might as well submit to the big places first, the ones that pay, maybe they’ll take it, maybe they’ll reject it but give you advice, who knows, but it doesn’t hurt to try. A great source for finding markets is Duotrope’s Digest (http://www.duotrope.com/), which is a database of something like 1900 markets with a nice database search.

    I’ve considered trying a novel length work as a series of self-contained short stories, but haven’t really messed around with it yet. Hope it works out well for you, though.

  5. rothakelly permalink
    August 10, 2007 11:26 am

    Thanks for the Duotrope link!

    I am really curious about the podcasting–is it an audio reading of stories, or is there an added video componant (or am I completely off?).

    One of the annoying things about grad school was how little the practical aspects were covered. Even now all of the ‘submission opportunities’ that come through the list serve involve reading fees. I guess that’s what has shaped my impression of submitting.

  6. August 10, 2007 11:51 am

    I hope it helps you out.

    As for podcasting, at the moment it is purely audio. That being said, there are several ways that one can go about it. Some authors prefer to do a straight reading, some do a reading with sound effects and music, and others have voice actors. Basically, there aren’t any hard and fast rules, as the entire thing is still pretty new. A great place to get started if you want to see how it works is Podiobooks.com.

    As for the business of writing, Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing (http://isbw.murlafferty.com) covers some of it, and Michael Stackpole’s The Secrets newsletter and podcast are excellent resources (http://www.michaelastackpole.com/?cat=22 and http://www.michaelastackpole.com/?cat=20 respectively), and every author should subscribe to them (the podcast is free and the newsletter is $1/issue). Even though this deals primarily with genre stuff, I think that much of it, especially the business parts are helpful to every writer.

    Good luck.

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  1. The Future of Short Stories (part 1) « Pawnstorm

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