As literary magazines closed down, newspapers shut their doors to fiction, and pop culture magazines became all pop and no culture the avenues for short story writers to publish their works have all but dried up. For most short stories to really work you need a cheap and fast distribution method that provides a quick turnaround time allowing the writer to keep their finger on the pulse of their audience.
Modern short story writers mainly had to rely on publishing collections of short stories bound together as a full book, which kind of sells the medium short. You have all the length, and cost, of a novel but without the ability to develop characters or build the story arch as eloquently. It’s hard to argue that in a one to one fight the novel would often win.
It’s a shame but I have witnessed this first hand. My first experience with P. G. Wodehouse was when a friend of mine lent me an omnibus of Jeeves and Wooster stories. I loved the first dozen or so short stories but only got about a third of the way though the book before getting bogged down with flat characters. I still like Wodehouse, and whenever I have a Wooster story thrust in my direction I enjoy it; but I need small doses.
But the tides are starting to change and technology may be the savior of the short story. The rise of eReaders has provided short story authors with a very cheap method of delivering their wares to eager readers in bite sized chunks. The New York Times recently wrote a nice piece on this topic in which is a quote which I feel sums up the relationship between the short story and the eReader.
“The single-serving quality of a short narrative is the perfect art form for the digital age,” said Ms. Dermont, whose collection is due out next month. “Stories are models of concision, can be read in one sitting, and are infinitely downloadable and easily consumed on screens.”
Stories are also perfect for the digital age, she added, because readers “want to connect and want that connection to be intense and to move on.” That is, after all, what a short story is all about.
I am as guilty as the next man when it comes to failing to seek out short stories, yet enjoying them when they fall into my lap. Perhaps an eReader might be the solution to my own lethargy providing me with a parade of short fiction for my mid transit reading. What do you think? Would you read more short stories if they were more easily accessible?
You can read the full New York Times article here