I’ve been trying to read more short fiction. It’s a form of writing I’ve appreciated in many genres, from John Updike’s slices of life to Philip K. Dick’s futuristic visions. I love Roald Dahl’s devilish twists and Ted Chiang’s philosophical musings.
While I love me a good novel as well, there are many ways in which short fiction is equal or at times a superior form for a story.
1. Short fiction is short: while I am stating the obvious, short fiction does give a busy reader (like most of us) a broader exposure to authors and markets. A typical short story or novelette will often range from 3,000-20,000 words. A novel will typically exceed 80,000 words. One can read up to a dozen short stories in the time it takes to read a novel.
2. Short fiction invites new ideas: writing a novel requires a substantial amount of capital. It may take an author a year or more to write the novel, then there is an agent, a series of editors, book cover artists, layout designers, publicists, and other folks who have their hands in bringing a book to market. Short fiction, on the other hand, requires substantially less investment. Editors have more freedom to take a chance on a new idea or a unique style of writing. It may be a choose-your-own-adventure or a second person slipstream. A short story can be a strange genre mash-up or it can push unconventional boundaries. With the few novels published each year by a particular publisher, most novel editors are unwilling to take the same chances that a short fiction editor will.
3. Short fiction does not need to conform to genre conventions: There seems to be a certain amount of pressure for authors to brand themselves and stay within their genre boundaries. Often pseudonyms are adopted when authors wish to write a work in a different genre (Daniel Abraham and Kristine Kathryn Rusch come to mind). Short fiction allows authors to dabble in other genres without consequence. They are free to write the story they want to write, rather than try to conform to the market of their previous stories. For example, Mary Robinette Kowal’s novels are period fantasies, yet her short fiction spans fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Giving an author complete freedom in their writing will often result in the story they want to tell — not the one they feel obligated to tell.
4. Short fiction deals with subjects that cannot be handled in long form: Let’s face it — some ideas are great, but don’t have the capacity to have a novel written about them. These are the stories Ted Chiang often writes — humanoids functioning solely on the pressurized air of the Earth or a man meeting his future self through a time traveling gate. But these ideas sometimes are so great they must be told. The shorter form allows the author to tell the story the way it was meant to be.
I am not certain how many short stories I will be reviewing, but I think it will be an interesting addition to the blog. It will reward aspiring writers to have their newly published stories reviewed. It should also allow me to review more frequently than my current rate.
We’ll see how it goes.