I’ve read many an introduction that either bemoans the lack of attention they get, or proclaims that they are well and truly back in fashion. The reality is that while everything else around us is being downsized and abbreviated, short fiction still hasn’t made it to the mainstream. Most of the readers who consume short stories are writers themselves. Even if it means convincing one person at a time anthologies, collections and single stories are worthy of their time and money, I will try.
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” Flannery O’Connor
The truth is, the short story is difficult. It is a challenge. Without the familiar length and structure that people learn from reading so many novels, they can feel daunted by the task of processing narrative in just a few thousand words. Furthermore, the perspectives offered in a short story can vary wildly from the traditional ‘journey’ found in a novel.
“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.” Raymond Carver
For me, the short story provides the opportunity to learn about the choices people make, the lives that they lead, and the way they interact with others in their world. I find myself thinking about great short stories long after reading, whether they are tales of bleak Russian winters, or futuristic romances. What did they mean? Why did they start and end where they did? What relevance do they have to my life? In fiction, there is nothing like that moment of reflection you take after finishing a great short story.
“The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.” Anton Chekhov
The form allows readers to explore genres and sample a great variety of voices and styles, but it can prompt more questions than it provides answers. While these pieces may be faster to produce than a novel, understanding the essence of a story is what makes them challenging to write as well as read.
“A short story is something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” V.S. Pritchett
You can tell from the quotes I’ve used, who some of my writing heroes are. The problem is, I keep getting new ones. Gaining new perspectives through reading anthologies (compilation albums of great stories) helps make me more inquisitive, tolerant and empathetic. Isn’t that something we should all strive for? You don’t need to be a literature graduate, or a foppish bookworm to enjoy different types of stories, you just might have to consider what they mean.
“Art is not in some far-off place.” Lydia Davis
Story is never far away. It’s around us all the time, so why not consider taking it in smaller bite-sized pieces. You’ll probably be able to find some very artful short stories in your local bookshop, or even online for free.