The best short stories can have the same intensity and levels of reader involvement as a novel or the concentrated power of a poem. Edgar Allen Poe and Maupassant packed more into theirs than other writers manage in entire novels. Bizarrely though, given that we live in times where speed is essential, sound bites are the norm and it seems that ‘we have no time to stand and stare’, the form seems to have gone into decline and lots of publishers/agents still say explicitly ‘No short stories’. In theory at least, it ought to offer the perfect fit for commuters with their e-readers and anyone who relishes grabbing a few moments during the day to relax with some fiction.
The beauty of the form is that it can be so many things, some of them just an evocation of a mood, others a complete, self-contained ‘story’ with beginning, middle and end, others still a simple memory or a dream. If they’re written with care, they don’t need to have an ending. Some very good ones simply set the scene for what readers know will be a lifetime of misery or bliss for the characters. In terms of length, my own range from 6000 to 500 words. And then there are the mini ones like those on some online sites, of which the best example I know is one written by my brother Ron. It was called Lost and, in its entirety, it went:
“That ring you lost, was it your wedding ring?”
That’s’ a good example of how short stories, however complete (or however short) they are, often still leave you with echoes, aspects of people and events you’d like to know more about.
As for where the ideas come from, or how I know a particular topic is a short story rather than a play or whatever, I don’t think there’s a rule. My short stories tend to come from times when I think ‘OK, I have x hours free and I want to write something so I’ll write a complete story’. There’s a satisfaction about giving yourself exclusively to a piece of writing that you know you’re going to complete – in terms of its first draft anyway – at one sitting. You may not, of course; complications may arise, new, uninvited characters may barge in. And, anyway, it won’t be the finished article because you’ll be returning to edit the thing in a day or two (or longer, preferably).
An anthology, especially one which features several different authors, can offer a range of perspectives, styles and experiences which keep refreshing the reader’s curiosity and illustrating just how flexible the story form is. You can see what I mean if you pick up a copy of Awesome Allshorts. It’s a collection of fine examples of the genre contributing by authors from all over the world whose professionalism and talents have earned them the title of Awesome Indies.
The collection is being launched on the 8th November and, as a bonus, the first 50 people to buy it on that day will also get a free novel. It’s a great deal, so check the link on the blog, get your copy, and find out (or remind yourself) how satisfying good writing can be.