The State of the Short Story

I have my own opinions on this, but thought David De Beer’s long comment on my original post deserved to be “brought to the surface” for further discussion while I’m formulating my own post.


De Beer’s Comments…

First, re: contributors/ writers – well, that may be true. See, there’s a few things I’m wondering about in the modern era that I can’t find definite answers for:

1) Are there more prospective writers today than before? I do think so, especially with the way teh internet has shrunk the world.

2) A question was asked on the Nightshade board once “What percentage of a magazine’s readers also want to be writers”. I’m tempted to say nearly all of them, at least at one stage or other. GVG surprised me by saying he thought only about 40%

3) Thing is, whether short form or novels, I think the vast majority of readers have a dream or hope of writing. There are non-readers who want to write, so this is a statement I’m rather careful with,. although I do know what King is getting at.

Either way, writers are ultimately readers first, and so I’m hesitant to say this is a bad thing per se. You’d need a hell of a lot of data to be able to say one way or the other.

Literature does have to compete with a huge amount of alternate options; this is where it gets pretty important for an individual writer as well as a magazine, publishing house, etc, to define to themselves what they are doing and who are they targeting?

Are they entertainment first and last? In which case, they are competing directly with Halo3 et al, and the intent is then to rope in non-readers.
This might be a doomed enterprise, since I’m skeptical that people who don’t want to read are going to read ever.

Having said that, it comes down to the genuine threat to writing – invisibility.
(We don’t, for instance, get a lot of short fiction magazines here in SA; it’s impossible to say whether there is a market or not because we don’t get them. But, comics have fallen a lot in sales here, and that comes down to one and only one reason – availability. When I was a kid, they were everywhere. Now, they are mostly sold by specialty shops. Now that’s great for the specialty shops, but it also means the majority of potential readers do not even know they exist!)

Bottom line, I can either fork out a fortune on a magazine I may not like and have never seen, or I can read online for free, and support magazines that cater instantly and easily to me as well(and by support, it can be as simply as trying to let as many people as possible know that they exist).
This is also why I’m thinking the internet is the venue of choice for short fiction magazines – it’s more accessible, the entire world can access it at the same time (as opposed to print where various people have to wait from days to months depending on where in the world they live).

It fits the nature of the short, to move it to a different venue.

Combining it with print anthologies for online venues (whether a Year’s Best of, or a Collected Works), and freeing up money in the consumer’s pocket for themed anthologies (right now this is a huge negative mark against taking out subscriptions to me; that that money is money I cannot use to buy some of the themed anthos and there are some awesome looking ones out there) could become the standard way to go.

It also comes down to the lack of marketing and wider publicity that short markets need to do and don’t, at least not much that I can see.
Shimmer put up a couple of very nice trailers for two of their issues on YouTube; I think this is on the right track, in the long run, to try and reach wider and generate more interest.

Fantasy imagazine s moving online, which I think is a good thing in the long run.

I do think short form has lost some readers; but I also am skeptical about all this muttering of the Apocalypse. This is just a continuation of the debate re: SF short form that blasted a couple months ago.

There are inevitable cycles to anything, but I do not think it’s time to play the doomsday trumpets yet.

UF, for instance, is booming right now, and I’m happy that its writers are so deliriously happy with the sudden exposion of newly published writers. I’m also fairly certain there is going to be a backlash, since inevitably a lot of crap is getting pushed into the market. But you know, that’s not a bad thing always; a bit of a stupid move from the pub houses, in a way, but not something that will irrevocably kill UF.

Short fiction, like science fiction, like anything else, simply has to adapt itself to keep up, be accessible and make people aware that it exists, and most importantly, have something to offer.

But I don’t really buy the Apocalyptic mutterings, in the end.


  1. says

    Like David said, for some of us, even the ‘bottom shelf stuff’ is hard to find, compared to 10 or 20 years ago when I remembered seeing the occasional Asimov’s in a newsagent. The internet is good for accessability, certainly. Anthologies in general, even Year’s Best stuff, similarly.

    (I’d be grumpy too if I had to read the actual bottom shelf stuff King was talking about, though :) Not sure why he’d ever do something he didn’t enjoy though, unless it was for philanthropic reasons?)

    There was a similar discussion about Australian short fiction work, and there definitely were a lot of non-reader (or non-purchaser) writers and wannabe writers, who wanted to be in such publications, but had no interest in buying or reading them. Apparently I’m a rare case being someone with no desire to do the writing thing, as far as that goes.

    Printed on paper magazInes disappearing and short stories themselves disappearing are two different things. Possibly to a reasonable percentage from certain generations only the former counts as ‘real’ in their minds, perhaps?

    So the online and anthology thing is an interesting experiment. With access to more informaiton now people that don’t read a lot, just the odd book here or there can maybe see that on average the book part is likely to have better stories, and checking the others out online where possible is very low risk.

    It would be interesting to have an article or editorial on such – and Baen have something similar with their best of.

    What would also be interesting would someone trying a book that the readers vote on – these are the stories we would like in our best of the year, as opposed to the editors (no idea if this is done already)?

  2. says

    I think the problem is that for stuff to become “top shelf”, there has to be a bottom shelf. Very few writers start out getting published in the big places. And if small places aren’t nurtured, then there are no more Year’s Best anthologies and so forth. Because the authors they get, in one way or another, have for the most part climbed up from the bottom shelf.

  3. says

    A year or two ago I found a set of publishing statistics alleging that, among other things, upwards of 80% of people interviewed said they thought they “had a book in them,” and that 60% of those 80% would write fiction. So, by those numbers, around 48% of everyone wants to write fiction–and judging by the decreasing readership of most magazines, it’s pretty fair to say that almost everyone who reads them probably has their aspirations.

    And, yes, most print magazines do a fantastic job of alienating their potential audience. Who exactly do literary journals expect to shell out $15 for a magazine that only has two stories in it?

  4. says

    As a writer earnestly trying to re-acquire a taste for short fiction, I have to agree, at least in part, with King’s diagnosis of short fiction’s current health problems. I say re-acquire because when I was younger and less jaded, I devoured the short fiction of Poe, Hawthorne, Irving, Melville, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, working my way through a respectable portion of a stolen two-volume Norton Anthology of American Literature (I aquired it from the library of a dead priest, but I think he would have wanted me to have it). Six years of higher education later, much of my interest in short fiction was exhausted. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that I majored in English with a creative writing emphasis. While I can still read ancient literature with relish, I have aquired a sort of gag-reflex when it comes to mimetic short fiction. Interestingly, short genre fiction doesn’t seem to have the same effect on me, but that’s a different can of worms.

    As King pointed out, too many writers are writing primarily for editors and other writers. As a recent graduate of an MFA program in creative writing, I’ve seen this from the inside as well as from the consumer’s end. A typical workshop is, I believe, a roughly representative slice of the market as a whole. What I mean is that, in a workshop, at least half, if not more, of the student writers are writing “workshop fiction,” which is basically short form fiction intended to appeal to an audience who reads The New Yorker and at least one or two other literary magazines. Most of these stories, while technically well-written, even in their nascent stages, often exhibit some common characteristics: they are of an appropriate length for the workshop environment, they often lack a compelling story or plot, and they often show a nearly obsessive attention to stylistic concerns, at times to the exclusion of genuine emotion . This is, I think, what King is getting at when he says of many of the stories he read for the anthology that they were:

    “airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers.”

    Though it is genre fiction which is most often chastised for being formulaic, the majority of these mimetic stories follow a formula as well, but in this case, the formula sacrifices story for the sake of style, plot for the sake of posturing. Is this the fault of the boom in MFA programs over the past several decades? Or is it rather a symptom of the inbred publishing environment in which many litmags operate? I wish I knew.

    One thing I do know is that I haven’t picked up a litmag with the intention of reading it in years, though they do make good flyswatters and adequate coasters. Please note that by “litmag” I mean specifically “The New Yorker” and most publications affiliated with a university creative writing program. I mean magazines which pride themselves on publishing only mimetic fiction, and bandy about critical terms such as “magic realism” and “surrealism” when a piece of fantasy manages to slip through the plausibility filter. I’m sure that, as a result of my embargo, I have missed out on some really great stories, but frankly I don’t have time to wade through that much crap.

    Is there any hope for short fiction as a form? I think so, but it comes from two directions most of the litmags have in the past been highly resistant to: the genres and the internet. Even though they also inhabit the bottom shelf ghetto, genre print magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Cemetery Dance, and The Strand Magazine (in addition to many others which are not so widely available) still do a lively trade in short fiction–they even manage to pay their authors! Though not every piece of writing in every issue is groundbreaking, there are some incredible stories being published every month, and people are actually reading them. And sure, many of those who buy the magazines may do so at least in part for the purpose of market research, but they probably enjoy the reading more than do their “literary” counterparts.

    As for the internet, I agree with Mr. De Beer about how it is revitalizing short fiction, especially in the genres. Though sometimes I wonder if anyone actually reads any of the stories published on the countless webzines, I applaud the opening of new markets, even if some of them amount to little more than vanity publishing. Things will likely continue to get better as more magazines find ways to make money from their online versions. Will print magazines disappear? I hope not, but the short story will go on regardless.

  5. says

    I don’t any writers, personally, who are writing for “editors” or “other writers”.

    And I read literary and genre fiction magazines and have found more good fiction than I expected in both types.

    God, do I hate generalizations about magazines, whether they be literary or genre. And gawd do I hate those two terms.

    I also think King, who I admire in some ways, is the ultimate guy-of-the-people, and that means anything of a certain type is going to go into a blind spot for him. The problem for me isn’t the lack of entertaining fiction–it’s the predominance of entertaining fiction. Which is to say, yep, there’s a lot of good fiction out there, but there’s not enough fiction taking chances or doing anything different.


  6. says

    Re this:

    “What would also be interesting would someone trying a book that the readers vote on – these are the stories we would like in our best of the year, as opposed to the editors (no idea if this is done already)?”

    I think, to some extent, for some year’s best anthos…you already have this situation, in that it’s clearly to the editor’s advantage to have a plethora of recognizable names in a year’s best.


  7. says

    eh, I sometimes King has bought into his own myth, you know? the myth of the common man as writer, the dude who drinks beer and burps and farts and makes lewd jokes and wears jeans (See Salem’s Lot among other things).

    There’s a hell of a lot about Stephen King that is admirable, and his influence on horror is incalculable, but…but fact is his writing hasn’t grown one iota in the last twenty years. Fact is the man has been placed on a pedestal and that is not always a good thing; people are likely to believe anything he says because it’s Stephen King.
    The man was and is a marketing genuis, but I also believe the man has obvious and clear biases re: writing and reading and has a habit, like most people, of not differentiating said bias and merely talking about it as:

    >airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open,

    granted, there ARE stories which are nothign but self-indulgent flim-flam, but honestly? King is not someone I expect to educate me on these types of stories as I have seen no indication to date that his reading interest is genuinely wider than his writing interest.
    Ok, look, I don’t want to come down on the “dissing Stephen King” role, as often happens when one criticizes him even a little.
    Nevertheless, for as much as he has done that is admirable and worth studying, he has just as many flaws, some more obvious than others, and this obviously influences his opinion and perceptions of matters.

    Writers writing for editors as opposed to readers – I don’t buy it, sorry. Thing is, to me the average reader is that person you see in the mirror looking back at you every morning.
    But ok, what is true here? is that writers try to suss out a specific editor’s tastes and write to that. It seldom to never works. If that is what meant by this statement, then I agree.
    But mostly, I don’t. I don’t think writers truly read differently than “readers” do, and mostly I just think writers are the Average Reader.
    It also smacks of condescension/ elitism on the part of the writers, and that is an attitude that can come back to bite them on the ass. It’s a mistake as well as insulting to underestimate the intelligence, knowledge and discerning tastes of a reader.

    Patrick raises one very interesting point though – readership. One potential advantage of print is that you can at least look at subscription or circulation numbers and make a guesstimate as to how many potential readers a mag has. Online? It is a very big mystery when you publish a story and how many people read it.
    But, there are also a couple of online mags who actually pay better per word than a lot of print mags do.
    (Chizine, Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons).

    >there’s a lot of good fiction out there, but there’s not enough fiction taking chances or doing anything different.

    that actually touches on something I’ve wondered about and another potential benefit (to some readers) for online fiction:

    print mags = conservative and cautious approach.
    True or false, and to what extent?

    I wish that I’ve read more widely in print mags to truly have an opinion, but right now it strikes me that there’s more of a middle-and-safe approach with print mags generally, whereas free and online go to more extremes, as in they either blow big time or they are really exciting and challenging.
    In my experience and taste, of course; no idea what other people read for or like. Personally, I am not fond of the merry go-round and would rather take the rollercoaster.

    I’m interested to see what you have to say about this; think it’s an important question to ask and discuss, ta for raising it:)

  8. Patrick S. McGinnity says

    Regarding the use of the terms “literary” and “genre,” I don’t like them either, especially the first as it implies such a simplistic value judgement. I use them because it is, in part, that arbitrary separation of mimetic fiction from speculative fiction that bugs me.

    As for who it is that writers write for, I may have been off base. I was planning to defend my opinion here, but the more I think about it, the more I think that I was too focused on the academia side of things, especially the workshops. But I also work at a large independent book store, and my time there has been a somewhat sobering education in who reads what, or rather who buys what. An example is that I would venture to guess that 90% or so of the people who buy books of poetry at our store consider themselves poets. This could simply mean that poetry is not very popular except among academics and a small group of poetry aficionados, or it could mean that poetry has become an art largely created for its own practitioners. Many people who do not read poetry cite its inaccessibility as one of the reasons, which begs the question of whether it is specializing itself into extinction.

    How well that analogy corresponds to the short fiction question, however, is debatable. Yet I can’t help but feel that a significant portion of the short fiction written each year suffers from this same self-insulating effect. It is not, I suppose, so much that it feels like it is written for editors (as editors are the ones who have to decide what the public wants or needs to read) as that it is written with other writers in mind. Which is really they way all of literature works, isn’t it? Nabokov was writing in a sort of dialogue with every writer who came before him, as are we all. I think I’ve argued myself out of my opinion, so I’ll sum up instead.

    I have always believed that truly great writers are the ones who can tell a compelling story while at the same time elevating the reader’s sensibilities in some way. Ideally the reader is challenged by a story, but not to the point of being alienated, which is, I think the problem with some contemporary short fiction. This way readers become better readers–and writers can continue to push the limits of the craft. That’s an ideal of course.

    Non-writers I’ve spoken to who choose not to read short fiction at all attribute their choice to an impatience with the “unresolved resolutions” of many of the stories they were made to read in school, and also with a lack of a compelling story to begin with. The short fiction I take issue with is the sort of thing I saw so much of in workshops: well constructed artifices with nothing real to justify their creation. Yes, they are written well technically, and even stylistically, but often there is nothing but skill and style. For me it is the storytelling that is missing. Some highly competent (technically) writers simply cannot seem to tell a story, or they can’t seem to think of a story to tell unless it happened to them directly.

    Regarding David’s question about print magazines and a conservative/cautious approach, I don’t think that the print magazines are necessarily any more cautious about stories that try new things. The internet may give that impression, however, because of the preponderance of “niche” webzines. When printing costs are eliminated, magazines can, I would guess, more easily afford to have a very specific focus. But that is not to say that they are less conservative or cautious than the print magazines, but only that their field is narrowed. One thing I’ve noticed about the print magazines that have lasted is that in each issue there is usually at least one story I dislike for one reason or another. Far from this being a bad thing, I think it shows that they are taking risks rather than sticking to a successful formula.

    And one more thought: Have you seen many online magazines that have a “Letters” section? You know, where readers can write in and say whether they like the direction the magazine is heading, or comment on individual stories or features? That’s one thing I always find interesting about many print magazines. This might address the writer’s eternal question “Is there anybody out there? And if so, what did you think of my story?”

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  9. Ennis Drake says

    I think there are a couple of truths, that to me at least, are self-evident:

    1) Writers read, but not all readers write. Maybe 80% of people have a book in them. I don’t believe that, personally, but say they do. I’d wager that 90% of that group will publish with a vanity press, or write a memoir with no intent of real publication (they might be satisfied with passing copies of the manuscript among family and friends), but by no means will they be committed, prolific producers of fiction, or even non-fiction. Most readers will never know the grit and guts it takes to write 100,000+ words, and then tackle it again and again and again. The first attempt I made at writing a novel stalled at 25,000 words. I remember dropping it into the bottom desk drawer and thinking “I can’t do this. My God! I really can’t do it.” Of course, I’m 60,000 words into the first draft of another novel, just finished a 20,000 word novellete, and a couple of pieces of short fiction, but, BUT, BUT, BUT, I waded through a YEAR of personal darkness, facing a razor blade of self-doubt and insecurity before getting to where I am now.

    2) Writers know (no, let me make that KNOW) — at some point, anyhow — that they are going to put words to paper for more than their own enjoyment. There is a point where you realize that you HAVE to get these ideas, and these people living inside you OUT. And when it’s done, when it’s really done, you are going to put it in an envelope and you are going to send it to SOMEBODY. Anybody. Why? I don’t know why. Call it compulsion. The point is, writers write because they have to. Maybe they join a writers’ group and produce fiction for it. Maybe they make a mistake and try to write to an audience of one. It doesn’t matter. Writers write, as King is fond of quoting, because the story is boss. Period.

    3) Well, this one isn’t a personal truth, but it is a fact: Young adult readers are on the rise. Which means, in the next five to ten years, the number of adult readers will also rise (or, so it would stand to reason).

    I don’t think the short story is dead. I don’t believe the novel is dead. Perhaps they are both in a state of entertainment purgatory (the short story especially), but people have been reading for about the last six thousand years, and I don’t think they’re going to stop now. Reading is at least as eternal as civilization. Maybe print media will die. Stone tablets and scrolls found the God named Extinction, but WE’RE still reading, aren’t we?

  10. says

    At this point, I have to say that as a writer just writing an entertaining story is as boring as it gets. I think we’re giving too much credence in this discussion to this idea of entertaining. No shit, on some level stories entertain, inasmuch as people continue to read the words on the page until the story is over. But if that’s all stories did, why the fuck have stories? Why not just watch bad TV all day? Do you get me? I think this reverse snobbishness is the downfall of the short story. If the short story has to become something facile and surface in order to avoid its downfall, then it’s already dead. So I say–fuck entertainment. Fuck the idea of audience, if it leads to this kind of shit argument. Do you get me? And I’m totally not irritated at the moment, but if you’re going to argue that stories should be the least common denominator and that we should mortgage our creativity even more than we already have in order to please some mythical “average reader,” then I think we’re not only selling ourselves short, we’re selling the damn reader short.

    Thus endeth the rant.


  11. says

    BTW–that’s not aimed at anyone in particular. I just think instead of homogenizing short fiction so it’s more like everything else, we should focus on those things short fiction can do that no other art form can do.

  12. Ennis Drake says

    You know, Jeff, that actually reminded me of King a little. Very frank. Very raw. Very REAL. That’s why King is the King, lest we forget. That’s why King (whether he buys into his own myth; and I can agree with that) is worth $50 million a year (according to Forbes, anyway). Frank. Raw. Real.

  13. says

    I’ve little time for writer Will Self but he once said something that’s always stayed with me:

    “Fiction can be anything.”

    Do they teach that in all these writing workshops?

    Another point: isn’t it curious how often people claim to have a novel inside them (“If I only had the time to write it…”) yet we never hear anyone claim to have a painting of a song or–I dunno–a building inside them, do we? I’d design that flying cathedral if I only had the time.

    King has been suspect in his pronouncements for me since I read Danse Macabre where he gives his recipe for the horror tale which (he says) must end with evil/monsters/Dick Cheney being defeated and normality being restored. ‘Scuse my French but bollocks to that.

  14. says

    >his recipe for the horror tale which (he says) must end with evil/monsters/Dick Cheney being defeated and normality being restored. ‘Scuse my French but bollocks to that.


    >I think we’re giving too much credence in this discussion to this idea of entertaining.

    yeah, true; but it is necessary to address it, inasmuch as it is the dominant thought. Now, fiction as entertainment I think everyone can agree on, but fiction as only entertainment is a major obstacle still in people’s thinking re: fiction.
    This comes back to what I mentioned at the start here – writers need to define for themselves what it is that they do.


    a lot of online magazines do have forums where people can discuss the stories. Trabuco Road opens a thread to every story they publish in the forum.
    Alienskin, I recall, used to run a letters page, not sure if they still do.
    But yes, most of them do have forums or some potential means for people to discuss the stories; it’s just that a lot of people seem not to.
    What does happen, though, is that some stories sometimes gets discussed on blogs; I like to link to short fic I ejoy and so do some of the people on my lj friendslist. Now and then we chat about the stories.
    With a print short you enjoy, you cannot do anything more than write up a review as not everyone will be reading that magazine. With online, you can link to it and say “I liked this, what do you all think?”, and people can hop over to read it (some of them do; some don’t but that’s life. Maybe it’s snarky of me, but I’m still of the opinion that most short story writers want to be read, they don’t like to read much beyond research).

    Know what’s fascinating? Take five people and present them with the same thing, and four will interpret it one way and say, “omg! we’re doomed!”, and one will say, “Hey, we’re doing pretty good!”
    A while back, some stats and figures that had a lot of people despondent was the statement that a recent survey deduced that one in four adult Americans DID NOT read a book last year.
    Fascinating choice of words — did not. What’s most fascinating is that people buy into the “did not” wholesale, and not stop to consider what is truly being said. Which is – three in four did read a book. 75%. Which appears to be an increase of almost 20% from several years ago. Here’s a link:

    a very scarily low percentage of people flipped those figures around and read what was really being said in this study.
    And this brings me to something that in the last few months I’ve been pondering on – reading.
    Honestly? let’s nuke three in four of the writing workshops, institute reading workshops and let’s all learn to do the basics properly.
    Cause teaching writers how to read properly should take precedence over learning how to write. And quite frankly the height of hubris is when writers start assuming they know how to read and are knowledgeable about a genre, or literature in general, simply because they write.
    Maybe you got lucky and had a book or two published, and some shorts, but that doesn’t mean you know jack-shit of what you’re talking about.
    (generic you).

    ~end of current ramble

  15. says

    Bad tv when boring gets the arse just like boring writing does. So do bad movies, songs, plays and even football games.


    That has nothing to do with the LCD. Turning out stuff that reads like USA Today isn’t going to go over too well.

    No need to waste your time on boring anything as far as entertainment goes if you don’t want to.

    Interesting point by David on the reading thing. If writer types spend hours a day writing their own thing (on top of doing something else too), and do that for years then people that are keen readers will easily leave them a long way in the dust as far as material covered goes.

    Not just magazines that are conservative, it would seem, it is publishing, period.

  16. says

    Not to disagree with you, Jeff, but I actually don’t mind seeing short stories (or novels, for that matter) as purely entertainment. I don’t really think of any of the stories or novels I’ve read in the past few years as anything more than that. Very few of them would I classify as “breaking the mold” or “groundbreaking.” That doesn’t mean there weren’t good. I just don’t look back on that stuff as anything that I thought terribly hard on. It was some damn fine reading, some of it I’ve recommended to others, but that was about it.

    Even including my own twenty or so short story sales, I wrote them because they entertained me, and I sold them because I thought they might entertain others.

    To me, Kelly Link is one of those “breaking the mold” authors. She writes a damn fine story, and she’s doing stuff I’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s been done by others, but I haven’t seen it before, so it’s special to me.

    On the other hand, I also like the work of Joe Hill. I really, really enjoyed Heart-Shaped Box, and would count it among the best novels I read this year, but I would by no means call it groundbreaking. It was a good revenge-from-beyond-the-grave story, but I didn’t think it really brought anything new to the table. And I’m cool with that.

    The point is, while I like different things about them, I like both authors equally.

    Likewise, I don’t think the short story has to become something facile in order to survive. I think it has to survive on its own merits. I don’t think short stories have to change how people see things or rock the establishment or anything like that. I know as writers we like to think we’re having these powerful effects on our readers, but frankly, I don’t think the majority of readers who are lapping this stuff up are doing so for any other reason than because they really, really like to read those kinds of stories. I don’t mind saying that because I’m one of them.

    Again, I’m not trying to argue with you, because I do see your point of view. I just don’t see a problem with short stories as entertainment. And I certainly think even the not-so-good stories are better than any piece of bad TV any day of the week. :)

  17. says

    I’m just saying that’s a given–yes, a story has to be “entertaining” on some level, something that means different things to different people–so why even talk about that. It’s boring to discuss it on those terms. Every person longing for more entertaining fiction generally means something different.


  18. says

    True enough. That’s why my reading and writing tastes are so disparate. I’m a short fiction whore. I’ll take the good stuff any way I can get it.

  19. Ennis Drake says

    I always found short fiction lacking when I was younger. But now, since attempting to write it, I’ve developed a palate for it (I also learned to like beer in my late twenties, though I have no interest in the brewing process).
    Still — to shovel on a little coal for my train of thought — my love for shorts has steadily grown. They’re cool in the summer, and don’t chafe my calves . . . wait . . . derailed again.
    Seriously, I’m amazed at how complex a five thousand word tale can be. It really is remarkable, and telling of the art of insinuation, especially when compared to the “hard development” found in novels. I’ve found that it is exceedingly difficult to write so sparsely; and I’m still the most comfortable when working in the range of ten to twenty thousand words. Perhaps that is the mark of a beginner (I honestly don’t have the experience to say, but feel like it must be true because I also find it difficult to work beyond that range).

  20. says

    Another point: isn’t it curious how often people claim to have a novel inside them (”If I only had the time to write it…”) yet we never hear anyone claim to have a painting of a song or–I dunno–a building inside them, do we? I’d design that flying cathedral if I only had the time.

  21. says

    Ah crap, for some reason that screwed up. Let me try again!

    Another point: isn’t it curious how often people claim to have a novel inside them (”If I only had the time to write it…”) yet we never hear anyone claim to have a painting of a song or–I dunno–a building inside them, do we? I’d design that flying cathedral if I only had the time.

    Just gave me an idea for a short story about a man with a building inside of him- and all these little people who live in it.

  22. says

    What they really mean is they have unfufilled desire within them, or by saying they have a novel inside them it makes them feel, oddly, self-important, I think. But, almost everyone says it. My eyes tend to glaze over now. I want to say: “Then write the thing. Put up or shut up. But don’t tell me about it.”

    If I had a novel inside of me all that time, it probably would’ve turned cancerous.


  23. says

    I’ve also noticed, in an admittedly small sample set, that people who refer to the “book” rather than the “novel” inside them (perhaps tucked away in the aforementioned cathedral) are more likely to actually write the damn thing, or make the attempt. I guess “novel” has more resonance for those with unfulfilled desires.

  24. jeff ford says

    “Then write the thing. Put up or shut up. But don’t tell me about it.” Jeff, this is what I was thinking when I was reading your posts up there about the elusive short story that will surpass entertainment and “focus on those things short fiction can do that no other art form can do.” Which one of your stories is this one? Or haven’t you written it yet? Or is it only for others to write?