Short Story lovers discussion

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Why do you love short stories?

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message 1: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Here's another question: for those of you who love short stories a lot in a literary era when novels are much more widely read, what is it about the short story that especially appeals to you? What does it offer that a novel can't or usually doesn't?


message 2: by peg (new)

peg (mcicutti) | 4 comments For me it's the author's ability to write succinctly. I imagine it is difficutlt to develop an idea in a limited amount of space, versus the unlimited volume available when writing a novel.


message 3: by Carol (new)

Carol | 13 comments I admire a good short story even more than I do a good novel. I think they're harder. I also think they can deliver a clean knock-out punch in a way a novel usually cannot.

I'm picky about short stories, though. I usually have a hard time getting through a whole collection by one author, but I also tend to be annoyed by about 25-40% of the picks in any given "Best Short Stories" collection. I faithfully read all the short stories in The New Yorker, but I like even fewer of those.


message 4: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
Hey -- for those of you who might be interested, I just wrote a guest post for a blog about writing, and the theme of the post is short stories -- specifically, why some people should write (and read) them instead of novels!

Here's the link:
http://christinabakerkline.wordpress....


message 5: by Harley (new)

Harley (harleybarb) | 26 comments Partly it's my own limitation: time or character or both. I find myself impatiently taking big gulps of novels, where with short stories I slow down and taste. Also what Carol said -- the knock-out punch. Also, the period after reading a good story where you can bring something back to your world is more frequent with short stories. Oh yeah, and the opportunity to be touched by the minds of so many more and different writers. Am I talking about speed dating here? I hope not.


message 6: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments I agree with Carol about the 'New Yorker' and 'Best American Short Stories.' I've basically quit reading both (though I usually give the NY stories a column or so to lose me, which they almost always do). It's become pretty clear to me that inclusion in either has more to do with popularity/ability to sell books than with strictly-defined quality.

I disagree that a (good) story is harder to write than a (good) novel. That's not to say that a good novel is necessarily worth more (culturally or artistically or personally) than a good story, just that it's easier for style, atmosphere, ellipsis, and other forms of pretty indirection to carry something that's 15 pages long than it is for the same qualities to carry something the size of a book, where weaknesses are soon exposed. Having spent a fair amount of time writing both, I can say that--and this is only my experience--you have to have a much broader, sturdier, and more abiding artistic vision to pull off a literary novel than to pull off a literary short story. (Please don't take this to mean that I've successfully done either.) It's something like the difference between having a fulfilling first month of a marriage and being fulfillingly married for ten years--do you have what it takes to engage with reality for the long haul? Great short stories don't have to prove an understanding (or advance a philosophy) of reality; they only have to convince you, through various forms of shorthand, that the author has one.


message 7: by A.J. (new)

A.J. From an interview with Richard Ford:
What about the novel compared to short stories?

Well, novels are harder to write and more important if you get them right.

More easy to mess up?

No, short stories are more easy to mess up. Novels are very forgiving forms, because they have so many formal elements about them that forgive the other formal elements about them. I mean, whereas with short stories... I mean, a messed-up short story or a short story that’s unsuccessful – it really isn’t a short story. It isn’t really anything.

But a novel can be busted in some way and still be a successful novel. You think about The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. You think about The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner. You think about Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald. Those novels all have serious misfeasances in them – all three of them do – and yet, they’re thought of as elegant, wonderful, plausible novels. They get past it because they have many other formal features beside their structure to forgive their structural inadequacies.



message 8: by Harley (new)

Harley (harleybarb) | 26 comments Well, I've only read one story in the new Best American (edited by Alice Sebold) but I'm not sure Geoff's popularity contest judgement will play out this time. I think I have the names of a huge number of anthologized people in my computer database (yes, I'm a nut) and half of the authors in this one are new names to me.

Theoretically, the guest editors are supposed to read the stories blind, by the way. How possible that is in reality, I don't know.

Thanks David for that blog article link -- I thoroughly enjoyed it!


message 9: by David (new)

David | 29 comments Mod
I'm glad you enjoyed it, Harley! And thanks for that interview excerpt, Andrew. I definitely can't agree with Geoff. A novel may be long, but that doesn't make it harder. It just makes it a different task. After all, many of our most celebrated poems are quite short -- does that mean they were easy to write? Was Pound's tiny poem "In a Station of the Metro" easy just because it was short? He started with thirty lines and ended with two (aside from the title), not because he wanted to write an easier poem or couldn't sustain an idea, but because the content called out for extreme economy -- the kind of economy that an acclaimed and prolific novelist, a person for whom plots and subplots and elaborate structure and slow-developing ideas come easily, might find impossibly difficult to attain.

Successful writing, I think, is writing that allows content to take on its most appropriate form, whatever that form is. Sometimes it's a novel, sometimes a short story, sometimes a sonnet. Producing successful writing of any kind is plenty hard, hard enough to make it pretty pointless to worry too much about what's harder than what.


message 10: by Harley (new)

Harley (harleybarb) | 26 comments Our neighborhood bookstore reading group just met to nominate and select the books for 9 months of reading. Two books with short stories made the cut -- Olive Kittrridge (a novel in linked short stories), and Say You're One of Them (short stories about children in Africa). As long as I've been in that group, this is the first time I've seen short stories nominated. Okay, one's a Pulitzer and the other is an Oprah pick, but is this a resurgence?


message 11: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments Andrew: Thanks for the Ford excerpt. What he says about flawed novels feels right to me (without making me second guess what I said, perhaps paradoxically).


message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Antenen | 137 comments Harley, I'll really be interested in your group's response to Olive Kittridge. I read it recently, completed it only because it was a Pulitzer winner.



message 13: by Joseph (new)

Joseph (jazzman) | 35 comments As a writer, I like the short story for the challenge it provides in crafting a good one.It's no easy task to say something meaningful in a relatively short time;kind of like patting one's head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.
As a reader,I admit there is something very American about "getting to the point." I like that.Most of us do. We've become a country on the run--- always anxious to get somewhere else.It often doesn't matter where. There is something about movement itself that appeals to us.Europeans(and others) are amazed at how hard we work. I think we play as hard, too.
While I disagree with the modern trend that sends a story that does not begin with action to the slush pile,I can understand it.Poor Faulkner would take a drink and turn in his grave.



message 14: by Cathie (new)

Cathie (countrygarden) | 3 comments lots of meaning in a short space


message 15: by Geoffrey (last edited Jan 09, 2010 12:48PM) (new)

Geoffrey | 131 comments For me, the short story is a literary snack between a weekend of feasting. It is short, seizes and captivates me for the entire time that I spend reading it, and I don`t have to come back to it. Whereas, if a novel is particularly engrossing, then I will continue reading past the time at which I should be in slumberland and impairs my work functioning the next day.
My preference towards short stories is not so dependent on their literary values, but on how they access my daily schedule. My taste for novels takes precedence upon weekends, vacations and stretch along times between jobs. My conjecture is that upon retirement, longer works will appeal to me more, but having experienced so many great shorter works, I`m positive I will never neglect the shorter fare.


message 16: by Craig (new)

Craig Hallam Although writing a novel is far from easy, I think the short story is more of a craft; working on it until you get the most out of a short piece.

You can sometimes get more 'style' in short stories that you couldn't extend into novel-sized works. There are always exceptions, of course, but you tend to find that even stylistically adventurous novels are quite short. The Road by McCarthy and Palahnuik's stuff are all I can think of to get my point across.
Of course, then we have the style over substance debate.

Apart from that, I like reading short, punchy stories on the go. And I think that's why they're growing in popularity right now. People just never stop moving.


message 17: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments Craig, is there actually evidence that short stories are 'growing in popularity right now'? It's hard as hell to get collections of them published--agents won't touch them, generally speaking, unless you've also got a novel ready. And if agents won't touch them, that means there's no money to be made, which means short story collections aren't selling.

And if you want a stylistically adventurous novel of some length, you might consider Ulysses (not to mention Finnegins Wake). Or Infinite Jest. Or Gravity's Rainbow. Or The Recognitions. Or . . . well, you get the idea.


message 18: by Craig (new)

Craig Hallam Thanks for the suggestions, Geoff, I'll add them to my extensive to-read list.

I think the problem might be that you're judging popularity by what publishers and agents are interested in. I don't think it can be denied that an astounding amount of people (readers and writers) are bypassing that stage entirely with the introduction of ebooks and self publishing. Also, magazines remain a great short story outlet. And what are magazines good for? Carrying around on the go, of course. The very fact that we're discussing this topic in a group dedicated to short stories is suggestive.


message 19: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments Agents are, by definition, interested in what's popular. That's how they make money.

And if you know many people doing ebooks and self-publishing, you know that they have a devil of a time finding a readership.


message 20: by Craig (new)

Craig Hallam Yes, you're right to a certain point, except the definition. (Here's me being pedantic http://www.thefreedictionary.com/agent). My point was that popularity can no longer be defined by the terms of those published through the traditional channels. And you seem overly bothered by what's commercially viable rather than enjoyed as a creative form.
The fact that indie writers have a hard time developing a fan-base doesn't mean the short story is unpopular as a form of of storytelling.

No offence there, Geoff, but I think you're losing the thread of the discussion which is "why you love short stories" and certainly not "how to argue for the sake of it 101".


message 21: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey | 131 comments I have to agree with Geoff on this one as well. If there were popularity of the form in other channels the publishers would pick up on it. There is no crime in discussing the financial aspect of publishing literature. Money is part of the package of life.


message 22: by James (new)

James Everington | 18 comments I love short stories; I have a new regular guest blog feature on www.jameseverington.blogspot.com called 'In Defence of Short Stories'.

The intro I did to the first one explains where I'm coming from:

"I never realised, until I started publishing short stories, how much some people dislike the form. I mean normal, reader-type people, who read novels, but won't sully their minds with anything with a word count under 20k. Where do these people come from? How are they created (for surely they're not natural)?

In all seriousness, I know short stories don't sell as well as novels. And I don't care. They are an art-form in themselves, with their own rules, their own highs and lows. They are not truncated novels, or promotional material for novels.

Hence the idea of 'In Defence of Short Stories' - a series of semi-regular guest blogs by short story authors."


message 23: by Geoff (last edited May 30, 2011 06:38AM) (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments Craig,

The way these discussions normally go, we follow the thread wherever it leads. Otherwise, it's not a discussion, it's just a bunch of individuals answering a question in isolation. I was just trying to respond to your assertion that short stories are becoming more popular. I would love it (as a writer of short stories) if you could prove wrong my suspicion that the opposite is true. Besides a general sense that there's interest in self-published things and things published online, do you have any evidence that it's so?

(And by the way, I never 'argue for the sake of it,' not about fiction. Neither do I ever agree for the sake of it. I'm here to learn about writing and reading, not to take part in the internet fluff of making friends and enemies. If you're insulted, as you seem to be, by my questioning of your assertion, then your primary concern isn't really fiction.)


message 24: by Elle (new)

Elle Lapraim | 6 comments Elle,
As a short story writer myselfThe Seamstresses I love how they really get to the meat of what you want to say. I feel like short stories really pack a punch and a lot of them have stayed with me for a very long time. I love this quote to:

The short story makes a modest appeal for attention, slips up on your blind side and wrestles you to the mat before you know what’s grabbed you.
-Toni Cade Bambara


message 25: by James (new)

James Everington | 18 comments Just to say it again, the guest blog opportunity on short stories I mentioned above is still open for anyone interesting...


message 26: by Alice43 (new)

Alice43 | 20 comments Elle wrote: "Elle,
As a short story writer myselfThe Seamstresses I love how they really get to the meat of what you want to say. I feel like short stories really pack a punch and a lot of them ..."


Thanks for the quote,someone new to look into and so true.Beautiful.


message 27: by Kossiwa (new)

Kossiwa | 8 comments I like that a small subject can be explored; an outing, a dinner somewhere, an argument, anything at all. I believe there's freedom in reading and writing short stories that you just don't find in reading novels. I can read or write about this one thing.

Short stories is the way we tell each other stories about our days, our lives. We don't say come back for chapter 2.


message 28: by Kossiwa (new)

Kossiwa | 8 comments James wrote: "I love short stories; I have a new regular guest blog feature on www.jameseverington.blogspot.com called 'In Defence of Short Stories'.

The intro I did to the first one explains where I'm coming f..."


Nicely said


message 29: by James (new)

James Everington | 18 comments Thanks Kossiwa.

The opportunity to do a guest blog 'In Defence of Short Stories' on www.jameseverington.blogspot.com is still open, by the way.


message 30: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey | 131 comments Another reason I neglected to cite for the short story`s importance is its "smorgasborg effect". One can sample several writers in an anthology like BASS or Norton anthologies, and then go back for more of the favorite pick. I have gone on to read some of my favorite writers from such anthologies. I discovered this years Nobel Prize recipient, Vargas, from an anthology of Latin American ss, which included Allende. Hers and his were my favorite sss in that anthology and I went on to read 3 more of his books. Hers are on my wanna list.


message 31: by Alice43 (new)

Alice43 | 20 comments I love short stories because of so many emotions evoked in such a short piece.I tend to read the classics more and really haven't delved in more recent writers.


message 32: by Giri (new)

Giri | 1 comments I fell in love with short stories when I was in school while reading 'The Nightingale and The Rose' by Oscar Wilde and 'The Sniper' by Liam O'Flaherty.

I have been inspired by Somerset Maugham and Saki (H. H. Munro). In my native language, Tamil, we had our very own prolific writer Sujatha (Rangarajan) who pioneered science fiction when the genre was unknown to the masses and introduced a refreshingly new style of writing with his short stories and novels.

But, short stories have always been my fascination. It may be the brevity of the literary form that allows one to get into and out of a topic quickly and experience different narrative styles of various authors. I have nothing against other forms such as novels or plays, but short stories are at the top of the list of things I love and enjoy.

I am an aspiring writer and started off with short stories with 40 stories in the last year and a half. I just started planning for my debut novel. My personal experience so far-I find writing short stories to be fun. I will come back and report how I feel after I complete my novel :-)


message 33: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) | 136 comments The short, sharp, shock.


message 34: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey | 131 comments Anyone heard of Jean Stafford? William Vollman? Mary Caponegro? Over the course of my lifetime I have read stories by these authors, been extremely amazed by their talent....but no one talks about them. Stafford may be deceased. She got a Pulitzer for her work in 64 I believe. But no one talks or mentions her work or name. What about William Kennedy? Great movie, but his writing is a bit awkward.
Why do so many great authors`works die with them? I wish there were a literary resurrection society.

I recall reading a Balzac, perhaps PERE GORIOT, and he mentions several books that were French bestsellers in the latter half of the 19th century. How is that no one reads them anymore with the exception of the rare assidous French literature professor who searches obscure titles to savor.

Why is it that instead of reading that halfway interesting novel by some out-of-the-way writer from Oshkosh we don`t read the past near greats. Perhaps there are really a number of greats there, and they will only collect dust on the jackets. Anyone out there read the APU Trilogy that Satijyat Ray based his three movies on or even JULES AND JIM. Someday I would love to read them but I have never seen either in a bookstore. Time for Amazon.


message 35: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments Geoffrey, I read a couple Vollman novels a long time ago and liked them. He also had a really good essay about homelessness in (I think) Harper's last year. Haven't read the others.


message 36: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey | 131 comments I don`t have access to Harpers as I live in a Spanish speaking country, (Mexico). I am an expat, but when I should return to visit gringoland, I will check it out.
It makes sense that he has an article on homelessness. He deals with that issue in one of his earliest novels, WHORES FOR GLORIA. I have read that, BUTTERFLY STORES, and 13 STORIES and have been amazed by his writing.

He does have a non-fiction out on Poverty in America, which I have in my possession but haven`t gotten around to reading.

I am predicting he will get a Nobel.


message 37: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Wyss | 171 comments He may well. He's got both the international focus and the political concerns that tend to attract the Nobel folks.


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