There is a lot said these days about how the internet, mobile phones and other technology is shortening people’s attention spans. You would think therefore that more people would be reading short stories rather than novels, however while there is something of a resurgence in – mostly online – short story outlets, if you ask the vast majority of readers they will tell you flatly that they don’t like short stories. Is that actually true, or might they actually like short stories but just not know it yet?
Until a couple of years ago I was one of that majority of short story philistines. I would have said the same – short stories aren’t for me; I don’t get short stories; short stories are boring, confusing… you get the drift. Then about two years ago I joined an online book group which had a fortnightly short story read. Since then the group have read about 50 short stories; I haven’t managed to read them all, but I’ve read at least 40 of them. All the stories are member picks, which gives some level of quality. I haven’t liked them all, but I’ve learned a lot about what I do and don’t like, and the discussions have helped me enjoy more types of stories. Along the way I’ve learned a few things. Here’s 10 reasons why you might want to consider reading short stories.
1. Are you one of those that struggles to finish a novel, or enjoys reading but maybe only finds time to read when you’re on holiday? Reading short stories can help you read more regularly and finish stories too.
2. You won’t like every short story you read, but they don’t take up a big time investment, and occasionally you’ll find something wholly sublime.
3. You know that feeling you sometimes get when you finish a great novel? You can get that with a short story too, in a fraction of the time, so can get that feeling more often.
4. There’s so many different types and styles of short story out there, find the ones that are good for you. Here in the UK, most of the short stories you’ll see are in magazines like Woman’s Weekly and other magazines for predominantly older, female readers. Personally, I find these rather too light and frothy. Other people might find literary short stories too stuffy and wordy, or science fiction stories too technical. Find what works for you.
5. There’s so many free short stories out there, both out of copyright stories and stories offered for free by online e-zines or big name magazines that give a fiction story for free on their website every so often.
6. Often, novelists will write short stories as well, sometimes connected to one of their favourite characters. A good example of this is bestselling thriller writer Lee Child, who has now written several Jack Reacher stories that are available cheaply online. Other authors, offer free stories on their websites. One popular fantasy author even wrote an exclusive short story for his social media followers, releasing it on Christmas Eve as a Christmas present for fans!
7. Short stories are a great way to try out new authors. Many classic authors are hard to get into, particularly Victorian (or earlier) novels, but their short stories are a good gateway into reading them. For more modern short stories, they can be a great way to discover new authors. I’ve come across several authors I’ve never even heard of before, but off the back of enjoying a short story by them I’ve sought out and enjoyed their novels too.
8. They’re short and quick to read. Most of us don’t have the luxury (or stamina) to read a book from cover to cover in one sitting, but with short stories you’ll often be able to enjoy them all in one go. Great for a short train journey, or a lunch break.
9. You can experiment more. Because they’re quick to read, you can experiment more and try out stories from different genres, in a way you probably never would with longer form fiction.
10. Short story cycles! While most short stories are standalone, some authors write lots of different stories that are connected together by place, concept or characters. They can interconnect in lots of different and often fun ways, and sometimes connect with novels and multi-volume series. Good examples of these include Robert Heinlein’s Future History series, and William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha.
Just remember, a short story is not a novel, so don’t expect it to act like one. Short stories just don’t have the time. They often concentrate on just one event, idea, character or emotion. This way they can pack a lot more punch. Just roll with it and see how you get on.So go try some short stories! I will post soon with some suggestions for what short stories to try, and where to go to get them.