11.04.2011

A Short Missive on Short Stories

Dear Readers,

While I'm incredibly grateful for those who have found and downloaded my work from the internet in recent months and have taken the time to review it -- even if some of the reviews haven't exactly been favorable (it comes with the territory), I have come away from reading some of the feedback feeling a little torqued over one particular criticism: my work is "too short."

Anyone who knows me, who has read my blogs or listened to me speak (either personally or on the Creative Commoners podcast) knows that brevity is not my strong suit. To be then criticized for being brief is a strange thing indeed.

Maybe I'm from a different school of thought, but when one writes short stories (and when one reads them), the idea is that the work will be short. No, that's not to say uninteresting or lacking in detail, character development, or plot. That's the trick of writing short fiction, and why it's harder than it looks. A short story is supposed to be as interesting and compelling as any longer piece, but it's supposed to accomplish that feat in (typically) less than 10,000 words. Or, by some guidelines, 7500. Any longer, and you start getting into novella territory, which is fine, but as of this writing, I have not released a novella into the ebook marketplace and I have no plans to. I either go short or I go all the way. That's just how I roll.

Most of my short fiction falls anywhere between 4500 and 7000 words. That's roughly 20 pages, I guess, and in my opinion, it's a fair length, and even longer than some. A lot of short story publishers don't want fiction over 3500 words, and that's one reason a lot of my stuff has not been circulated by other markets. UNDER THE SCOTCH BROOM, on its last draft, was a little over 7500. I have one piece of flash fiction available online -- SINGULARITY -- and by some standards, it's a bit too long for that category at 1400 words. At any rate, it's the shortest short I've written. Again, I'm not good at the whole brevity thing.

I've done my best to alert readers to the fact that they're purchasing short fiction. Almost all of my covers have "a short story" below the title. I also make sure I put the fact that it's a short story in the metadata (tags, product info, category selection, and such). And yet, I think this must be too subtle, because people keep complaining that my short stories are too short.

So now I'm trying to figure out what exactly people are intending to say when they say a short story is short. Do they mean that it was poorly developed? That it was too "thin" story-wise? Perhaps they liked it so much, they didn't want it to end (a great thing to say to any writer, but since this criticism usually appears in negative to middling reviews, that probably doesn't fly).

All I can figure is that the art of reading the short stories is lost on many readers. They don't know what defines the short or what it's supposed to accomplish because they're used to reading fiction in longer forms. They don't know how to appreciate the artform, because it has been dying for a number of decades, and only relatively small number of authors are trying to keep it alive.

At any rate, it's just a disappointing thing to see. I like to think my short stories are actually a very healthy length. I'm a slow reader, so I'm not the best one to gauge this, but most of them can be read in about twenty minutes or so, and I think that's more than fair. And since nearly ALL of my individual short stories are now free downloads, I'd say that's as fair as fair can get. If you got a short story that had a beginning, middle, and end, and you didn't have to pay for it, then I'd say you got a pretty good deal.

If you didn't like it for other reasons, then I'm more than happy to hear those reasons. Or just accept the fact that I'm not a universally loved author and move on with my life and keep writing for the people who dig what I do. Maybe some people think I'm shallow. Maybe they want more depth from my characters. Maybe there were a few too many typos (I try to catch them all, really I do). I only ask that I'm not berated me for the one part that I did manage to get right, and that was adhering to standard short story length guidelines.