Last week saw the release of my humorous sci-fi story, “Exchange Student,” at UK’s FICTION on the WEB. This was quite an auspicious occasion. “Exchange Student” was the first short story I ever submitted for publication. It also earned me my first rejection. In fact, my poor little three-eyed alien and her human date were rejected numerous times before finally finding a home. Fortunately, I’d been admiring FICTION on the WEB from afar for months, so it was a real honor to be accepted. No matter how many times you hear ‘No,’ I’ve found that ultimately, every story finds the right home.
So why short stories? Why do I as an author choose to invest my time in pieces clocking in around 5,000 words or less rather than working on, say, a novel? I think this is a question a lot of non-writers ask (because let’s face it, most authors already understand the appeal of the short story form). I can’t speak for everyone, but I have so many reasons for loving short stories. For one, I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. My dad read me Poe, and my mother read me Bradbury, two of the authors best known for their pithy contributions to genre fiction.
From a writer’s standpoint, I sometimes struggle with brevity. On the surface, this would make novel writing a better choice for me, but the last thing I want to do is beleaguer readers with wordy books. In the year I’ve fully devoted myself to short stories, my ability to craft a whole world in just a few pages continues to require less and less words. Short stories teach you to pick your descriptions, dialogue, and plots very carefully.
But don’t take my word for it. Check out these awesome quotes from a wide breadth of authors who just happen to be short story devotees too.
“A short story is confined to one mood, to which everything in the story pertains. Characters, setting, time, events, are all subject to the mood. And you can try more ephemeral, more fleeting things in a story – you can work more by suggestion – than in a novel. Less is resolved, more is suggested, perhaps.” – Eudora Welty
“The short story is still like the novel’s wayward younger brother, we know that it’s not respectable – but I think that can also add to the glory of it.” – Neil Gaiman
“I believe that the short story is as different a form from the novel as poetry is, and the best stories seem to me to be perhaps closer in spirit to poetry than to novels.” – Tobias Wolff
“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allan Poe
“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” – Ray Bradbury
“The great thing about a short story is that it doesn’t have to trawl through someone’s whole life; it can come in glancingly from the side.” – Emma Donoghue
“A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” – Stephen King
“A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” – David Sedaris