With the continued growing popularity of the short story, many good collections are released each year and yet sadly the majority go unnoticed by mainstream readers. But why are short stories good for today’s busy readers?
For many readers who are entrenched in their reading habits, it’s hard to be wholly enthusiastic about a short story when a novel can hold their interest for days or even weeks as they develop an affinity with the characters. And yet comparing the short story to long-form fiction is highly disingenuous. Long fiction is more trend centric. Think of Fifty Shades Of Grey, The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. They each spawned thousands of similar reads which with hindsight we more often than not remember the overarching structure of the story but rarely the detail.
The short story is different. Because they are more compact they allow readers to readily absorb the whole narrative structure The preamble is banished and their succinct length allows us to retain the entire story arc in our mind without relinquishing the detail for the length of its read and beyond. The good ones are like rare gems we can hold up and explore from different perspectives.
In fact, if you think about it the reluctance of long-form fiction readers to embrace the short story is actually counter-intuitive to the world we live in. With so many things competing for our attention. Especially social media platforms, the brevity of the short story provides a timely literary distraction without the guilt of lost time. That isn’t to say they should be rushed. Far from it! They are also a great way to explore new genres.
Whether it’s the classics like Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell or Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood, or contemporary short stories like “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian short stories deserve to be savoured. Readers want to be entertained, amused, startled, inspired, kept on tenterhooks and seduced and the very best short stories condense and amplify these reasons to read them because we don’t have to wait for the build-up. The immersion is immediate and so is the satisfaction of a timely resolution. But for long fiction readers on the fence perhaps the definitive reason for reading short stories should go to Neil Gaiman who said “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
As always we hope our post has stirred a few thoughts and we always welcome comments for discussion.