I’ve decided that short stories are great. I’ve always quite liked them, but they’ve now moved up in my esteem from pretty good to great.
You see, there’s an awful lot of writers out there. Go into any large book shop and try to count, it’s a pointless exercise that will give you a crick in your neck as you tilt you head to look at the spines. Go onto Amazon and just start browsing. There’s loads. So how do you know who to read?
You can’t pick up one of their books anymore and read the back cover and think “Hey, that sounds like a good story!” because you’ve more likely to think “Hey, someone who gets paid to write this for a newspaper I never read has written something trite about this!” And if you go into a book shop and try to read the first chapter or so, you might not get to see what the book is actually like because things are still just getting going. So you’re then stuck with either having read the author’s other books, or personal recommendations or reviews on site like Goodreads.
But if it’s a new author you’ve got none of these, which is why I like short stories. I’ve got a modest collection of anthologies on my bookshelves that have led me to discover authors like Ursula La Guin for the first time, and then go out and buy the rest of her books. An activity that put the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on the face of the assistant in the shop, who then proceeded to tell me the best order to read them all in. And she was right. So from a readers point of view, short stories are an excellent way of finding out if you like a writer’s style before committing yourself to a potentially long and agonisingly difficult read.
But since agreeing to do 30 Short Stories in 30 Days with the Manchester NaNoWriMo group I’ve realised how great short stories are from a writer’s point of view. You see, my first book was released towards the end of last year, and while I’m very happy with it there were parts that I had to leave out. They made good stories, but they just detracted that bit too much from the main story threads that I had running. I put three of these on the website before the book was launched as a taster so people could see what the book was like, because trying to explain about a world with an endangered creatures programme that was set up by a dragon to protect humans as well as mythical and extinct creatures is a bit tricky. Whereas saying that there’s a couple of short stories online gave people a chance to realise I wasn’t totally mad. But those three short stories came about because while describing the dryads was needed, explaining how Robin Hood and his Merry Men were actually dryads wasn’t. And I’d already worked in a good scene with the dragons in history, and a few with the angels stage managing religion.
Whilst I liked these story ideas they were just a bit superfluous to the book, and there weren’t alone. To try and come up with thirty short story ideas I’ve gone back through Endangered Creatures and found all the bits and pieces where I thought “It’d be great to expand this out” or “Hey, this would make a great short story on its own.” I’ve also checked my notes and ideas for characters I’m introducing in the sequel, The Breeding Programme, and putting together short story ideas for them to see if they actually work as characters before firmly committing them to the book. In a way, I’m prototyping them.
For a writer then, short stories offer two great things. The chance to expand out the ideas and scenes that got cut from longer books, and the chance to try out new characters and scenes to see if they work, and see what people think about them.
So in short, short stories are great.