Short Stories – Dead In The Water Or Alive And Kicking?

The short story genre is one that is thriving – but only in certain places. Where are they?

A short story can be roughly defined as any work of fiction below about 12,000 words. A greater word count tends to move the story into the realms of the ‘Novella’ or Novelette’, a niche in the writing field that falls between the short story and the full-blown novel

For many years the short story was a thriving branch of fiction but took a downturn during the middle section of the 20th. century. More publishers began to favour the novel as, understandably, they saw that a novel gave them more chance of turning a profit than a short story and, at the pinnacle, could be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. But consider this – several short stories have been been the basis for not only movies but (oddly enough) a spin-off book! Perhaps the best known is ‘The Sentinel’ by Arthur C. Clarke. This went on to become one of the most famous films ever – ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’ – and then the book of the same name was written!

It’s interesting to note that, these days, one genre where the short story is thriving is in science fiction and fantasy. Magazines such as ‘The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction’ are still going strong after better than fifty years, whilst ezines such as ‘Interzone’ represent the new wave. If there’s one area a new writer can compete in, it’s the Sci-Fi or Fantasy short story.

If , however, you’re not the least bit interested – or capable – or writing within the Sci-Fi or Fantasy field, what is there left to you? Well, a great area for short story writers to work in is within the field of magazines for women. Some of these have readerships in the millions and most exceed circualtions of 100,000. That’s an awful lot of exposure for any writer! In fact, most novelists would consider their latest book a huge success if they sold copies in those sort of numbers.

Short story writing is also a great discipline for a writer. Often written to a strict wordcount, and for a very discriminating audience, any writer will benefit from writing short stories – they encourage tight plotting, good character development and real attention to detail. Indeed, many short story writers have said that the experience they gained in the short story field was of huge value when they came to write longer work.

There is also a category of writer who writes only short stories. Again in the Sci-Fi field, Isaac Asimov is remembered for his famous ‘Robot’ books (the recent film ‘I Robot’ was based on his work), but his most prolific writing was in the short story field, in which he wrote literally hundreds of short stories, not only in Sci-Fi but also Crime and Mystery – his ‘Black Widowers’ stories being amongst the most fascinating ever written in the field.

These areas – Sci-fi/fantasy and women’s magazines – are then two major areas where short stories are not only holding on but are in fact thriving. If you want experience in writing and to see your name in print, they are a good way of achieving the status of ‘published author’. That’s not to say they are easy markets – competition can be fierce. However, they have been for many years the entrance level for many authors and there’s no reason you cannot follow in their footsteps.