Saturday, 12 October 2013

A boost for the short story?

This week it was announced that Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And I, for one, was very excited that a woman who is renowned for writing short stories has been honoured in this way.

Short stories are sometimes seen as a poor relation to the novel, even though they are a complex art form in their own right, and can be very hard to do well. Munro has a fantastic style - she can fit the enormity of a novel into several thousand words. Her stories are rich and vibrant and satisfying.

I love this collection, especially.
Trying to sell my own short story collection at the moment, I know how hard it is to convince people to try short stories. Even though people say they have less time to read, they still prefer novels.

Here's my own (possibly controversial) theory: readers are lazy. Why read short stories - with the characters and situations continually changing so you have to start from the beginning again every few pages - when you can read a novel? Indeed, why read a novel - knowing you'll experience that bereft feeling of leaving behind characters you've grown to love - when you can read a series and never have to say goodbye to those characters ever again?

A good short story will draw you in, hit you hard and leave you reeling for hours, or even days. A novel, by contrast, is a slow burner - it can amble and wander, the final punch can seem to be more of a playful slap.

There is surely a huge imbalance between the number of people not reading short stories yet entering short story writing competitions. These competitions are growing and growing. The prizes are growing and growing - the Bridport Prize, one that I've been entering for far too many years, has grown from a £1000 first prize to a £5000 first prize. Well worth entering, but how can people expect to write a brilliant short story if they don't read them?

To return to Munro for a moment, I discovered this article from Open Culture which links to twelve of her short stories, so you can read for yourself.

What was the last short story you read?
Did it hit you hard? Are you still thinking about it?
Do you have a favourite short story writer?

54 comments:

  1. Good point, Annalisa. Writing a truly brilliant short story is an art. I have to say I still think about your short story 'Omlette' that has stayed with me. Happy weekend.

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    1. Oh, thank you Suzanne, My mum told me that Omelette made her cry - I don't think she was expecting me to say "Good" :-) Hope you had a good weekend too.

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  2. Great to hear about short story writer winning. I read her 'Friend of my Youth' collection when I was a student, which is one of the reasons that I love short stories. Hope you're having a great weekend. :-)

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    1. I've not read that one, but I have an urge to read all of her books now. There are lots!

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  3. I have always liked Alice Munro - I reviewed her collection Dear Life not too long ago. She is a great writer. I know you aren't seeking praise, but your collection That Sadie Thing is a gem. Will Munro's win be a gamechanger for short stories? No, but it's nice to know her body of work has been acknowledged. She is a class act.

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    1. Aw, thanks Joanne, that's so lovely of you to say that. I think it's great that she won such a prestigious prize - but I'm going to assume it will make short stories more popular, for a little while longer at least :-)

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  4. The last short story I read was The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant. Probably one of my all time favorite stories ever written. :-)

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    1. Even with my love of short stories there are so many acclaimed writers I've never got around to reading - Guy de Maupassant is someone whose name has cropped up a lot and I keep meaning to try. Hopefully, now you've mentioned him, I'll look him up :-)

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  5. i don't read a lot, which is funny because I enjoy them when I do read them. (The book I'm reading right now is of short stories.)
    I'd have to say my buddy Rusty Webb writes some of the best. But then, I haven't gotten to That Sadie Thing yet...

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    1. I think you sum up what a lot of people think about short stories - they like them when they actually get around to reading them, but they never think to actually buy them. There needs to be a marketing campaign, or a blog hop ;-)

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  6. I've recently started reading YA and they're definitely shorter than novels I'm used to reading. There is a real art to short stories so this is great to read.

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    1. Yes, YA are a lot shorter but still manage to pack a big punch!

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  7. I love to read a good short story, but I can't write them. I've tried. I'm just too verbose. The last short story I tried to write is now my 1/2 finished novel...
    Tina @ Life is Good

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    1. I have the opposite problem. I try to write a novel but it turns into a short story!! Good luck with the second half of your novel :-)

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  8. I really would like to try my hand at a short story. I have been tossing some ideas back and forth in my head :)

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    1. Go for it, Keith. I love writing them because they offer a lot more freedom than a novel does - for me, at least, other people say the opposite.

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  9. I read a lot of the equivalent-- short nonfiction essays. I like those. I read a novel about once every 5 reads, so I may not be the best example of reading short fiction either. You make good points though. I wonder why people don't read more short stories? Given the shorter amount of time to read one, I would think it would be an attractive option.

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    1. I might just shout about short stories a little more on my blog and see if I can't get everyone loving them :-)

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  10. I like reading both short stories and novels - they are very different though.

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    1. Yes, and that's what makes them so fun to read, in my opinion.

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  11. Hi Annalisa,

    I was delighted when Alice won. Especially her being Canadian, eh. Personally, I prefer reading short stories that impact. Much like I prefer reading short blog postings that impact.

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    1. A great short story has the ability to leave you gasping in panic or relief. A novel is slightly more gentle and brings you back down to earth before leaving you alone. Alice Munro is a very worthy recipient.

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  12. Hi Annalisa

    Thanks for your help, once again. I have to admit that it's been some time since I read a collection of short stories (I think it was Jeffrey Archer's "A Twist in the Tale"), but I agree that they do have to be punchy and have a deep impact. I used to like watching "The Twilight Zone" on TV for a quick buzz. I feel now that I'm missing out, so I'm about to order "That Sadie Thing".

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    1. I think it would be awesome to bring The Twilight Zone back. I remember watching Tales of the Unexpected too. Thanks for buying That Sadie Thing :-)

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  13. I always enjoy short stories when I read them (loved yours!) but for some reason I don't think to look for them when I'm looking for something to read. I definitely don't see them as a poor relation to the novel though, I think it's so silly when people insist on putting something down just because they don't do it themselves. One of my goals is to try to write some short stories, I admire those who do and would like to try my hand at it.

    I hope this win by Munro leads to more recognition for this art form.

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    1. Thanks Julie. I bet you'd be awesome at writing short stories, and I'd definitely want to read them!

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  14. I'm just starting to get into short stories (probably because I just wrote my first one!) The last one I read was Rachel Schieffelbean's SECONDARY CHARACTERS. Loved it!

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    1. Secondary Characters is really good isn't it? So cool when the story is about normal people!

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  15. I was over the moon when I heard about this award for the short story. It's highly underrated and I love to read as well as write them.

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    1. It was richly deserved by a writer who's dedicated her life to something that's never been seen as totally fashionable. I like that a lot.

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  16. I recently finished a short story collection called "The Tears of Isis" by James Dorr. He's a member of my local critique group, and has over 400 short stories published. I kid you not! I've learned so much from reading and writing short stories. They can have just as much of a punch as a novel. There's one short story (I think it's Neil Gaiman or Stephen King) about penny people. That sometimes the penny you see on the sidewalk is actually a little fae type of person. It has stuck in my head for many years now. There was nothing explosive or dark about the story. It was about the wonder in every day life.

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    1. Wow, 400? That's impressive. That Neil Gaiman/Stephen King story sounds really interesting.

      I tried to comment on your blog today, but the internet isn't playing.

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  17. I enjoy the occasional short story, although I don't buy many collections of them any more. I read them much more when I was a teen because there were lots of stories in one book. Yes, I'm the sort that prefers to read a novel and no, it doesn't have to be a series. I love the world of a novel.

    I've written short stories and after writing several full length novels going back and writing a short story is ...harder. It requires a tight focus and refining a the word choices to paint the best emotion or action. That takes some discipline.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

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    1. There's definitely a freedom to really delve into the world of a novel. I love reading novels too, but I find I naturally find shorter stories easier - novels of any more than 50k so far elude me.

      My comment about series was a little flippant, but based on so many comments I've read on Goodreads groups.

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  18. hi!
    l absolutely love your blog- i found it so engaging and beautifully written.
    lt would mean a lot if you could check out my blog. Maybe we could follow each other? :)

    ~1000thingstodoinalifetime.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Kate, that would be a lovely message if I hadn't seen it on at least one other blog I follow.

      Here's a tip (which you probably won't see because although you want me to follow you, you haven't followed my blog yet): if you comment on the content of the post and show that you've read and 'engaged', then I will check out your blog as a matter of courtesy. If I like what I read, then I will follow. If you copy and paste the same message on to a lot of blogs, you are spamming, and I will not follow you.

      Please feel free to pop back and read my blog, and then I will stop by and read yours :-)

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  19. Well, you already know how much I have enjoyed reading That Sadie Thing :-) The last short story I read was definitely one of yours. The one that really stays with me the most is The Guitar at the End of the World (hope I got the title right). The character detail... and the heart-breaking idea of the girl in the bedroom who is in love but dying. I love that one, but I have to admit it leaves me wanting more - which is what a friend always says about my short stories. It's hard to let go of the characters after such a short time, so perhaps that's why more people go for a novel? Great post!

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    1. It's The Guitar at the Centre of The World... but don't worry, I get it wrong all the time!

      I find my novels start to become very mundane and pedestrian if I'm not careful. I certainly don't think i could do that story justice if I carried it on into a longer story. Thanks for the ego boost :-)

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  20. I've always been a big fan of short stories. They're quick reads that leave you satisfied, much like a decadent truffle slowly invigorating your senses with each tiny morsel you taste. Thanks for the link. I'm sure these stories will be positively delightful to read.

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  21. Short stories are interesting creatures and can be very thought provoking. I'd like to write more of them... eventually.

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    1. They're also a neat little diversion between larger projects, which I find works really well.

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  22. I think the rising trend is the novella. 50 to 150 pages of story--doable in a single sitting, but with enough story to really dive. With the boom of serialization, I think the way to go with short stories is to build them into a serial. That leaves you room to expand, but also the freedom to end at any time. And hey, Dicken's wrote serialized stories.

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    1. I also find novellas much easier than a full length book to read on Kindle etc.

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  23. I like to read short stories and novels. I've started looking out for collections by my favourite authors. It's interesting as they are often written in a different genre or style to the novels. Short stories give writers an opportunity of trying out many different arenas.

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    1. In some cases I prefer the short stories to novels - I love Daphne du Maurier's short stories, but I've never made it through any of her novels. I still have Rebecca waiting patiently beside my bed.

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  24. I genuinely enjoy short stories, although I do admit that I prefer novels. That doesn't mean that I don't care for short stories, but I do have a preference. I receive different things from both forms. I also have several short stories tucked away on my hard drive, but I find writing short stories to be even more difficult than writing a novel. Fitting the entirety of a story, the range of emotions and development, into such a short space, takes extreme talent. And my last short story collection was That Sadie Thing!

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    1. It is often said that writing short stories is harder than novels, but I think it just depends on the writer - I find novels very difficult, but I'm trying my best! Thanks for reading Sadie :-)

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  25. Very interesting. I actually think you're probably right, about readers commitment levels. I've been writing shorts since junior high and have been sending them out to magazines for a long time. I think they're a fun thing to do and a wonderful artistic outlet, even when they don't bring you the same kind of attention or success that novels do.

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah, with Joy)

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    1. Hopefully the attention and success will come to them soon.

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  26. Hi Annalisa - wasn't it great that Alice Munro won ... I really need to actually start reading. I've always bought short stories, as well as novels, non-fiction and fiction, ... but I need to break my mould and get to actually sit and read ... trouble is once I start, then I won't stop!

    But I like the concept you give here .. of short stories, to novels, to a series ... where the reader can always be involved. I get bored though .. so I don't think that sort of series would last with me .. a trilogy is fine ...

    thanks for the link across to Alice Munro's works .. I'll check that out .. cheers Hilary

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    1. If you read the stories in the links, you might find you want to read more :-)

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  27. Short stories certainly take a lot of talent. It's not easy to get readers to connect in such a short amount of words. But you do it beautifully, Annalisa. :)

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Please comment - I love a good chat!