Monday, June 22, 2015

Why I've Been Reading Short Stories

For a long time, I only read short stories for school. It never occurred to me that I might enjoy reading them outside of class. That all changed when I found a copy of Road Dahl's Skin and Other Stories at a thrift store a few months ago.

Of course I was a fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and The BFG when I was a kid, but as a teenager I was introduced to his adult stuff. I had read his short story Lamb to the Slaughter for -you guessed it- school, and I really enjoyed it. I was surprised with how deliciously twisted it was, so when the collections of stories popped up, school had warmed me up enough to buy it.


I loved it. This collection was perfect to start me on my short story journey. From there I explored more traditional short stories from Edith Wharton and Bronwen Wallace (yes, I did explore the dreaded Can-Lit.), but I also read pieces that were more like vignettes and prose poems, such as The House on Mango Street, and Seen Reading. Some stories required a bit more attention than others *cough* Wharton's *cough*, but overall I felt enriched by reading them.

Beyond simple enjoyment and broadening my reading horizons, I had an ulterior motive to reading these stories. I was reading them like a writer and taking note of what made these pieces shine (or fall short). Recently, I decided that the next step in developing myself as a writer was to learn to master the short story. To do this I needed to do some research.

I think this quote from George R.R. Martin sums up why I'm going back to the short story.

I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft.” – George R.R. Martin

It's not that I'm not capable of writing a complete 100 000 word draft of a novel, because I am; I've done it before. Instead, I want to return to this basic form because it cuts away all the fluff of exposition and gets to the meat of the story real fast. Writing short stories has forced me to figure out what's really important to a story and what's really not. I want to learn to be a writer that is brief, concise and impactful.

Writing short stories has been immensely satisfying, because I can write it start to finish in a relatively short time. The size of the piece makes it a lot less daunting to revise and refine into a piece and not just some word-upchuck on a page. It feels great to look at my folder of stories and see five complete pieces. Since the pieces are so short, if I end up hating a story I can discard it without feeling like I'm giving away a year of my life, like I would if I wrote a novel. Overall, downsizing from those 300 page drafts to a draft that's four pages at the most has been utterly refreshing.

I have also found some practical benefits of writing shorter pieces and they are as follows:
1. People don't mind reading your entire piece and giving you feedback
2. You can enter your short stories in contests (not many want novel-sized submissions)

Do you like reading short stories? Have you written short stories? Go big or go home? Let me know what you think about this topic in the comments!

I spent this post discussing my new found love of short stories, but I'm also a huge fan of the YA genre. H.M. Wilson was kind enough to interview me about that genre on her blog Plottinger Twist and you should definitely go check it out.

Reading: Life is Short - Art is Shorter: In Praise of Brevity by David Shields
Listening: Mumford and Sons, Wilder Mind
Watching: Haven

16 comments:

  1. Writing short stories is a super fun and educational exercise. I have been writing since I was 10 years old, but I didn't start writing a novel until I was 16. Throughout those years I wrote short story after short story. It was nice that people could easily read and critique my writing in one session. Their feedback, plus publication and awards I received for my work, helped me to build the skills and the confidence I needed to start writing a novel.

    Now I write mostly novels, but I miss writing short stories with all my heart. There are a few short stories I have written that I am super proud of (like more proud of than any of my novels). I think I need to get back into it... ASAP.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that I'm not totally crazy in thinking that short stories are a good way to start. I love that they give such a variety to your portfolio. Good luck in getting back into short stories or with your novels, if you decided to continue on that path!

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  2. I think short stories are extremely important for novelists to write because they really help one to focus on perfecting the prose since there are fewer words than in a novel. I think the same thing goes for poetry. I really want to focus on writing some shorter works for this exact reason, and I think it will help me learn important skills that I can transfer over to my novels.

    As for reading short stories, I do so occasionally. I highly recommend Ray Bradbury's stories as he is one of my favorite authors. Normally I'm not a fan of creepy stories, but I have fallen in love with his work. He has a way of twisting prose into vivid imagery that express subtle stories that somehow explore the human condition so deeply. His writing is seriously amazing, and I can't do it justice with my words.

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    1. I totally agree with you! I've had a love-hate relationship with poetry, but I can't deny the value that reading it has.

      I'll definitely have to check out Ray Bradbury's short stories. I haven't read any of his other books, but this seems like a good way to get into it. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  3. I love reading short stories, especially O. Henry's. Have you read them? You should read them. They're pretty good.
    I think short stories require different criteria in terms of writing than, say, a novel draft. You have to pack more in less, if you know what I mean. I've barely written any, but I'm hoping to write more over the summer.

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    1. I have not read any of O. Henry's stories, but after a quick Google search I've realize that I definitely want to check them out!

      I like the way you said "pack more in less". That makes perfect sense to me! Good luck with your writing adventures this summer!

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  4. I usually forget that short stories are a thing, you know? But I've read several collections from my favorite authors, and mostly enjoyed them. I love F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age and Flappers and Philosophers, and L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame) has hundreds of short stories. Most recently, I read the Cat's Pajamas by Ray Bradbury, and I really liked it.

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    1. It's way too easy to forget about short stories. I'd love to try Fitzgerald's collection and L.M. Montgomery's stories! I had no idea that they wrote short stories, but now that I know it seems like the most natural thing in the world.

      Thanks for the recommendations!

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  5. I think short stories in concept are a really good idea, but I haven't enjoyed writing them much at all. They end up feeling like a chore, and basically leave me feeling like I've wasted my time. The only short story I can think of off the top of my head that I well and truly enjoyed was To Esme, with Love and Squalor with J.D. Salinger. I guess it's hard for me also, because it isn't as hard to write a short story, which means you tend to get really, really bad ones all the time. It is a frustration. :/ I wish I liked them, though.

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    1. To each there own. You don't have to like short stories:)

      I'll have to check out the short story that you actually enjoyed. It must be good if you're not a huge fan and still like it.

      Thanks for commenting with such an interesting view!

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  6. I enjoy reading short stories but struggle to write them, in part because the characters always seem to demand more "screen time" if you know what I mean. I recently enjoyed _The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing_ by Melissa Bank. I think my favorite short story collection is still Jhumpa Lahiri's _Interpreter of Maladies_. I've read some of Junot Diaz's short works, too. Interestingly, I think I'm most drawn to stuff like Lahiri and Diaz in short form, where you get to dip your toe into another culture.

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    1. I think the phrase "always leave them wanting more" is particularly relevant when writing short stories, but sometimes it can be so hard!

      I'm so glad that you mentioned some of your favourites! I'll have to check them out.

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  7. I do like reading short stories! But I never seem to find ones that I want to read (those this even make sense? I guess like for full length books it's easier because they're FULL LENGTH, and then for short stories, they have to be an anthology, so you have to find an anthology first). But with that said, I did stumble upon the Machine of Death, and it's one of my favorite anthologies/collection to date.

    Speaking of writing short stories, I always felt like it was HARDER to write one. You have to fit everything you want to put down in 50 pages or less (rather than the normal 200+), and then you have to cut things out without cutting out the main aspects of the story. It just seems like a huge balancing act between EVERYTHING. So yeah. BUT THAT'S JUST MY OPINION. I haven't even tried it out for myself so I can't say for sure :)

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    1. I think you hit the nail on the head as to why people find it so challenging! It's harder to trim down all your thoughts and be concise in the story.

      You are entitled to your opinion:) I'm glad you shared an anthology you liked though! I'll have to check it out.

      Thanks for stopping by SOI!

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  8. Short stories can be so refreshing after reading a long saga! Although, it does depend on how thy're written, as I've found that some YA shorts do lose out on plot or consistency when written as a short.
    Have you ever read Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter? It's written so well for a short - you would kind of expect that from Roald Dahl, I know - and has such a good ending!
    Also, love your blog picture, it's so cute!
    Eve @ Pen & Key <3

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    1. I love Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter! I recommend it to all newbies who want to read short stories. Totally refreshing, as you said:)

      Thanks for the compliments and thanks for visiting SOI!

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