Friday, December 22, 2006

Short Story, RIP

Stewart Sternberg is talking about what is happening to the short story over on his blog and that inspired a few thoughts. He believes the short story as a form is dying, and I tend to agree with him. But I will mourn that death until my own last breath.

I like short stories. I like to read them and I like to write them. Along with poetry, I consider them a different kind of art form from novels, and sometimes they are the "perfect" art form. No novel could express so perfectly the ideas behind Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” or Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God.” No novel could equal the absolute horror of “Hangover” by John D. Macdonald. There are reasons why “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes and “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov were better as short stories than when they were expanded to novels.

We humans live our lives as moments. Just as novels are made up of scenes, so too are our lives. Even if our lives are epic, we don’t experience them that way, we don’t know they were epic until--usually after we are dead--someone writes about us. And none of us are ever going to be trilogies. The short story is really more like the way we actually exist. We lose it at the risk of losing ourselves.

And at the risk of sounding a little harsh, those of you who never read poetry or short stories should remember a little quote, which I’ll paraphrase here:

First they came for the poets, but I wasn’t a poet so I did nothing. Then they came for writers of short stories, but I never read or wrote stories and so I did nothing. Then they came for the novelists and the readers of novels, and I was one of those. But by that time there wasn’t anyone else left to help us.

7 comments:

Sidney said...

I think some of the most satisfying writing experience can be in creating short stories. They truly can be written in a burst of inspiration. It's hard to maintain a burst for the time it takes to write a novel, but a short story can be written feverisly,while driven by the excitement of the idea.

I don't know that the form is dying, really. In some ways there seem to be more opportunities than there were a few years ago when there were only a few "closed" anthologies happening. I'm sure there are still closed anthologies but there are also a lot of other things happening and as long as there are a few readers and a few passionate writers I don't think the form will pass into the night.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree that there are still opportunities for publishing shorts, but the pay is not what it used to be it seems. James Sallis was talking about how he sold a story in the 70s for 300 dollars, to an average market, which he couldn't get for a story to such a market now.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I loved that quote..or paraphrase. They came for the novelists...etc.

Everything changes, we look at what we knew and mourn its evolution. Who knows what the short story will evolve into. Maybe. One thing though...there has to be someone discriminating. Someone needs to say: This is good. This is bad...an editor would say that, and while his or her opinion is not the word of God, it is at least someone making a call, and backing it up with pay.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

That is a great paraphrase, if I might paraphrase Stewart. I think Sid and I are well aware of "closed" anthologies, although I've probably gotten into a few by the seat of my pants, an example being THE KING IS DEAD anthology dedicated to Elvis stories. It is certainly more difficult to sell short fiction in the style I want to write it in, but I think it is the short story writers, not the novelists, who have the true cult followings. That's really all I want as my legacy.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I've been invited to a closed anthology. Talk about a roll of the dice. It's frustrating though isn't it...knowing that there are people putting stuff together and not even getting a chance to be able to show your stuff.

I want to be able to say: "Here I am!!!"

Jack Bertram said...

I love short stories, so I hope they stay around. I also like your paraphrase.

JR's Thumbprints said...

As a reader, short stories require more concentration and effort; whereas, novels don't. Also, a great short story is something you'll go back to and reread.