Is the Short Story Dead?

A reader loves to get their claws into a good book. The bigger the better because you never want a story to end. The world is full of big books; some brilliant, some good, some bad, and others that are just a waste if time. I remember reading one and getting to page 150 out of 1123 and throwing the book into a corner. It lies there still.

Some stories are so big it takes a number of volumes to tell the tale. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with that it does give the author a lot of scope to play with and a massive canvas with which to paint their scenery and characters. They have a lot if time to get their point across. I’m in no way saying that the longer the tale the easier it is to tell far from it. A long story can be very complex.

Let me put it this way. Imagine a boxing ring and two boxers going head to head. One fighter is throwing punch after punch after punch and continues to do so for the whole match. In the last round he swings a right and knocks his opponent to the mat. That’s the equivalent of a long story. Plenty of action with a knockout ending.

Now imagine the same match only this time when the bell chimes to mark the beginning of the first round, one fighter throws a single, earth-shattering punch, knocking his opponent out of the ring itself.

To me, that’s what a short story should be like. A short story, because you haven’t got too much time with the characters, should have the ability to knock you for six in a very short space of time. The unfortunate part is a lot of short stories I read are no good. They lack character and make me want to throw it in the bin after the first couple of pages. A short story should grab you from the first sentence.

It often makes me wonder who agrees to publish these short stories and even pay out for them. Cemetery Danse (and I’m a big fan of Cemetery Danse) has released a few short stories in their magazine that’s left me puzzled. I reached the end and wondered what it was doing in there in the first place. I didn’t get the point. I couldn’t understand what the story was about much less what I was supposed to get from it. Even if the story is slow to start, it should at the very least have a great ending.

It really gets to me that publishers and editors cry so much about great stories, yet some of the stories they publish are in my eyes, and I’m sure a lot of people’s eyes, a complete waste of time.

A short story has to be a pleasurable read. A quick hit. Maybe a publisher and editor would do well to think about that when accepting short stories.

You never know, we might actually get some good ones for a change. The short story isn’t as popular as it used to be partly because people have lost interest in them but that doesn’t mean they’re dead. All we need is some good ones.

An example of that is Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. A collection of some of the best short stories around. Or Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew which contains the highly acclaimed story ‘The Mist,’ recently turned into a movie.

I can accept that every now and then you’re going to get a short story that is just nonsense but I don’t accept that most I read nowadays are a waste of time.

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