I don’t write short stories.
I have done.
Like a lot of people I think I felt less intimidated by the idea of producing… say 3,500 words than 80, 000 for a novel.
When I had written a few I realised how incredibly difficult they are and how demanding they are of those qualities of tight plotting, concise language and an almost poetic density of emotion and language that result from the constraints of space.
They didn’t help with characterisation either.
You can’t lay out a character through reaction to events or actions forming events and extended dialogue. There isn’t the time. Every word counts and often has to count two or three times. Moving the action forward, sketching a character and setting up the next piece of business, all while engaging the reader of course.
Novels are allowed, indeed probably need differentiation in density throughout the work. Short stories are a lot more intense.
So I left them alone.
I have written bits of flash or very short fiction, mostly as an exercise, in the interim but recently the idea of writing ‘proper’ short stories resurfaced.
Well the writers group I attend wants to publish a book showcasing examples of the groups work, and rather than an excerpt from a novel I would prefer a stand alone item if I take part.
I have also recently had one or two ideas that seemed to suit the shorter format.
But what a change. Short stories now seem much shorter than when I last wrote one. I read some newer ones and looked at the existing prizes for a hint to the expected length. I can find only one that accepts nominations or contributions over 2,500 words. I am sure there may be more if I knew where to look, but from my first trawl that was the length. Also the old main markets have disappeared or shrunk dramatically. Magazines publishing short stories, certainly stories around the 5,000 word mark, are very few to non-existent. 1,500 words seems about par. Even shorter fiction – flash or micro fiction – is the norm.
I am guessing that it is a combination of lifestyle – electronic media, longer working hours, less spare time, competing demands on the remaining spare time and changing fashions in leisure that has helped kill the longer form short story. There are attempts to preserve and revitalise the form out there but they tend to be rather targeted attempts tied to social issues and concerns. There are prizes for young writers, for women writers, for minority writers, and don’t get me wrong, I am very much in favour of such affirmative action. It’s just a little frustrating to find so few options open to a white, adult, male. Ironic I know. The preserve of the white adult male short story writer appears to be in the Fantasy and SF genre. Stereotyping or what? And I don’t fit in it.
I have found an open competition with a 4,000 word limit which is appealing. No doubt the competition is ferocious but it looks interesting and I have written something that looks just the thing for it. In the meantime I am wondering how much effort I can put into a form that appears to be so limited in potential, no matter how much my interest has been re-awakened.