Why the short story is so freaking cool.
I already know that you love short stories. This letter isn’t going to try to convince you to love them. But if you’re like me, you know smart readers who say that they don’t like to read short stories because they “end too soon.” Yes?
They’re missing the point, of course. A good short story can captivate you and pull you in the same way a good novel can – but the incredible thing is that it can do it in 20 pages instead of 200 pages.
The thing about novels is: they’re just so long.
When you read a story, you’re opening up your heart and mind to those characters and their story. This involves a certain amount of willingness to be vulnerable, not unlike falling in love.
But to enter the relationship with a story, you must acknowledge that it is a short story. It is not a novel. You and the story are both consenting partners in this arrangement.
When you read a short story, you are agreeing to take responsibility for your own heart and mind when it’s finished.
Both stories and novels ask questions of you, and complicate things, and make you think and feel in all sorts of ways. But a novel stays to work it out with you. It takes the time to make sure you’re okay before it leaves.
A short story says: I trust that you can handle this yourself.
A short story knows you’re going to be okay. It assumes that you’re responsible for your own process, and that you’re going to take the questions and problems and complications that it presents, and you’re going to deal with them yourself. It knows that you can process those feelings on your own.
Amazingly, those feelings can come back to you even years after you’ve read a story. The problems still feel fresh and worth thinking about. This is precisely the short story’s gift. This is why they end too soon.
Reading a novel is like going on a long train ride. The novel comes with you for breakfast and dinner in the dining car, and stays in with you in your sleeping bunk. By the time you get to your destination, you’re ready to get off the train and enter real life again.
A short story is more like a friend you meet on the train. You start talking, and right away you know it’s someone special. After the trip, you promise to keep in touch with her. And you grow together, for years.
This week, I invite you to read one of your favourite short stories again. Maybe it’s been years since you read Eudora Welty. Maybe you’re a different person now.
Have fun catching up.
p.s. — A couple of new online story mags doing cool stuff: Dragnet, where you get a beautiful touch of the handmade along with your digital reading, and Found Press – where you can download stories one by one for your ereader, or buy the whole issue at once. (I recommend Obscure Objects by Caroline Adderson.)
p.p.s. — it happens to be Year of the Short Story this year. Click here to read the YOSS Manifesto.