Hate the Length, Not the Writer

29 Jul

As I’m releasing my short stories on my author’s page, it occurs to me–I really don’t like short stories. I’ve written very few, as compared to the tons of first chapters in my folders that never got anywhere. It occurred to me that the reason was very, very simple.

You simply get no chance to be invested in the story. It takes a while to setup the universe, the characters, to get into the rhythm of the story. Then… it’s suddenly over. Your entire job is to convey one cute concept or rough idea or something you want to discuss. The characters and the universe are irrelevant in a short story. It’s a plot, straight and simple. Take one of my favorite short stories, “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Great concept, but apart from the dragon, do you know any of the characters? No… it’s not important. You build up this universe just to abandon it on the side of the road. Maybe the universe couldn’t hold up a whole novel (as has happened to me).

I find this annoying in other forms of entertainment as well. It’s why I prefer TV series over movies. If you’re gonna spend time with characters you care about, you want them be around for a while. That’s why having a universe where main’/supporting characters die is so effective!

But there are exceptions to this. Memes, for example, are easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Whether they match your wisdom is another question entirely–they’re there to get a point across and leave. They’re also easily shared and travel fast. You don’t have time to make a connection. Blogs are also great for this, because although they’re short, you know the author and make a connection with them instead.

Now I’ve actually sold short stories, and they’re great for anthologies, but those have the same problem for me. Unless you’re following the same characters, I really couldn’t care. Even anthologies from a shared universe are… iffy. For example, Changer of Worlds is set in the Honorverse, which is a series I’ve followed religiously written by David Weber. Three of the four stories are referenced (but not essential) to the plot of other books; three of the four are also written by the author himself, so one wonders why he bothered. Even then, it still took a while for me to read them… even after I bought the book! In this case, I was simply getting backstory… and although that was enjoyable, it wasn’t desirable.

Novellas are the worst of both worlds. I should know, I’ve written two of them. They’re just long enough to convey the story, universe, and characters, but not enough to continue. About 20K words–that was my comfortable spot for many years. I couldn’t write more than that until NaNoWriMo and Grad School taught me how to crank words out. There was one novella I wrote specifically for a contest, so it had to be that long, but it didn’t win… so… poopy.

So when I seek out new reading, I hope for series, I hope for long epic stories, and characters that are worth following. Am I alone here? Do you feel the same or do you crave the nice bite-size morsels of a short story? Or even the single sitting meal of a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

4 Responses to “Hate the Length, Not the Writer”

  1. Faye Arcand at 3:06 pm #

    Great post. I love short stories. The key is to keep it centered on one character and pov.Have you read any of the short stories featured in The NewYorker…brilliant. But…that being said chapters work too. lol. The thing is to keep writing.

  2. Greg Vessar at 6:16 am #

    I love to read short stories…especially those written by Ray Bradbury!

    • albigensia at 6:43 am #

      Well, it’s Ray Bradbury – how can you not read it? 🙂

  3. Shruba at 6:20 am #

    I find your perspective really interesting. I really love short stories and I practically admire how they leave a lot to the imagination of the reader to fill the details that the writer doesn’t elaborate on. I’m not sure why but I myself used to prefer writing short stories because I usually write spontaneously, without much planning and that can wreak havoc in case of a novel. I tried writing a novel once but it fell flat because the structure was so loose and haphazard. Maybe the short length helps keep the piece compact and emphasize only on certain aspects to build the tension or the climax. I find it similar to how caricatures tell a story, simply with a little twist of lines they can portray different expressions. Perhaps, writing novels and short stories are in essence quite different styles and hence the disbalance between the two. Having said that, I do understand the temptation of a novel. I personally enjoy being transported to a whole new world where I can know little details about each characters and spend more time with them. It really depends on which story you are choosing to compare. Great post! 😊

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