Monday, March 14, 2005

Why Read Short Stories?

First there is the obvious. They are short. They don’t take a lot of time to read, and, for me, they are perfect for work breaks and lunch.

Most of us, when we read fiction, read to be entertained. We want something that will take us away from the daily grind, something different. But, to be honest, for me entertainment is only part of it. The bigger part, I think, is getting to feel something.

The majority of what I read, even the stories that I enjoy, is not memorable. These are the stories by the good journeyman writers, the people that have command of the English language and the structure of the short story. I enjoy those stories; they entertain me. But they don’t stay with me more than a few days.

It’s the stories that stay with me that keep me reading short fiction. Some stories evoke a sense of “how’d they do that?” Candace Wiggins’ “
Nice Tie” and Ray Banks’ “Seductive Barry” will stay with me for a long time.

Other stories evoke strong emotion. Write a story that makes me laugh, cry, or share the anger of a character, and those will become part of my life. Steve Hockensmith’s “Red Christmas” made me laugh out loud. I’ll remember that as I will the two elves, Hank and Frank, AKA Ribbons and Bows. Dave White’s “
God’s Dice” brought tears to my eyes (for the right reasons). Those are the stories that stay with me.

In every case it’s the characters that make stories memorable to me. You can’t make people feel emotion unless you can make them care about your characters.

Of course novelists can do the same thing. The difference, I think, is that in a novel the sheer weight of everything else that has to happen to fill out 80,000 to 120,000 words dilutes the impact of the emotional moments. In a short story you don’t have all that chaff. The emotion takes center stage.

You have to read a lot to come across these gems. But, in the end, it’s worth it.


At 8:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read a few Stanley Ellin about gems...


At 3:03 PM, Blogger Dave White said...

Holy crap. Thanks Bob. Really. Holy crap. Thanks.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Dave White said...

And let's see if blogger works this time. (which means a double post for sure). Once again, Thanks Bob.

At 7:57 PM, Blogger Candace said...

Jeez Louise. Bob, thanks so much. Really. (( I feel like Dave White, thank you thank you thank you.)) But -- No kidding. Thank you.

Not just for the mention, but you said it all about the genre in a short amount of words your own self.

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