Are Stories Getting Shorter?

In this day of the Tweet and the Facebook status update, of texting and email, are we programming ourselves for “short”?

On one hand there seems to be some evidence that this might be the case. Short Youtube videos are as popular as TV shows. In the written media, I’ve seen more novellas in the last five years than perhaps the previous ten combined.

These intermediate stories — either a very long short story, or a very short novel — once were the stuff of collections. Now they have begun to appear as digital offerings, a way, perhaps, for an author to test the water of self-publishing without risking a more time-consuming project.

Is this a trend or an anomaly?

Perhaps it’s a replacement.

None have been seen since 1959

Short stories seem to be going the way of the Pallid beach mouse. Once populating Florida, the little creature hasn’t been seen in more than half a century.

Certainly short story collections have a hard time finding a publishing home. And magazines that carry short stories are a dying breed.

Yes, there is hope for short stories on the Internet. Online webzines continue to crop up from time to time, but fewer of these are paying markets, which means writers may as well publish their short stories on their own site, as I have from time to time, where their regular readers are more apt to find them.

Could it be, however, that short stories, rather than disappearing, are expanding? That the novella trend is not a replacement of the novel at all but a void filler for the absent short stories?

Publishing, the new Wild West

I suppose there’s no way to know. As one industry professional recently describe publishing, it’s currently the wild, Wild West.

Self-reliance was the most important ingredient for survivors in the days of land-grabs and cattle rustlers.

Or was it?

When there was no lawman in town, no doctor, and often no preacher or teacher, people learned to rely on themselves or to bond together and rely on their community. Guess which ones thrived the most.

So in the structural vacuum of publishing, with its fenceless expanses and ever increasing numbers of charlatans offering a helping hand to the wannabe writer hoping for a bargain price on choice publishing real estate, who’s to say if short will win out or die out?

Some believe the reader will finally get the say. So, what do you like to read — short stories, novellas, or novels? (Is it time for another poll, before the previous one is not even half way to completion? 🙄 )

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (6)  
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  1. Miss Becky, thank you for posting this, I recently posted questions about what to do with shorter fiction at the Anomoly (Marcher Lord Press’ online forum). I find myself writing a lot of short stories, but they are longer than most (it seems with ezines, “flash fiction” is the fad, but these seem almost *too* short at times). I’ve been debating on whether to shoot for collections or cycles, but I hear (partially from you, partially from others) that collections are having a tough time these days.

    I’ve been thinking more and more about the viability of ebooks to post longer stories, perhaps more novelette than novella. I’ve also considered the possibility of, as you have mentioned, posting short stories on a personal website.

    To answer your question…it really varies from story to story. Give me a story–with a beginning, middle, and end, that does not go on needless rabbit trails that do nothing for the story. Tell the story from beginning to end–no matter how short or long that takes, just tell what must be said, no more, no less. That said, I tend to feel more comfortable with shorter works because they require less commitment to read, I’m more likely to reread it, and I’m more likely to finish. An epic had better be worth the trip–and some certainly are, such as The Lord of the Rings and The Historian, both of which are so rich as to be worth return trips, even. Longer works have the benefit of letting you enjoy a character longer, but a series of short stories, such as the adventures of Solomon Kane, are a way for readers to access the character as much as they please, not feel obligated to go to the next story, but have more stories waiting if they like it. Solomon Kane’s adventures vary in length, but Solomon Kane is still the same wandering Puritan vigilante that he is in the last story.

    I think the market has placed stories in a neat box to label things with, like “novel” and “novella” and “short story.” This might make for good marketing, but philosophically, I ask, “who cares? It’s a story, right?” I’m trying to decide on how to balance the market with creating art that is not confined by conventions.

    What are your thoughts? Do you, as a reader, prefer shorter or longer fiction?


  2. What length of story I prefer depends on the kind and quality of the story. There are some authors, for instance, whose work is never long enough; the moment I finish a volume, I have the feeling that I want “more! more! more! now! now! now!” On the other hand, there are some authors whose work is diverting in small doses but not worth the effort in longer pieces. And there are some kinds of stories that, if done well, I can immerse myself in and enjoy immensely for hundreds of thousands of words at a time, but just don’t work very well at novelette-length or shorter, while there are some that, no matter how well done, I can’t keep reading if they’re longer than a short story.

    Also: My dad is an occasional volunteer editor of the Internet Speculative Fiction Database; he’s told me on several occasions of editorial debates there as to how early SF works should be categorized, because what was then an extraordinarily long novel mightt be only a novella by today’s standards. I think that some of that may be related to (wartime?) paper shortages in some periods that limited how much a magazine could print.


  3. Short stories have long been on the decline. You’ll recall that many old, acclaimed novels were originally published as serials in newspapers/magazines. Perhaps as novels became increasingly available people turned less to magazines – and therefore short stories – to satisfy their taste for fiction.

    I’m speculating; I don’t know. It just seems to me that a world in which Great Expectations is published over a year’s time in “All the Year Round” is inherently more friendly to short fiction.

    But if short stories are getting rarer, so are independent novels. Series are very commonplace these days. Tallying up the books we’ve reviewed since I joined the blog tour, there have been two stand-alone novels and five that were part of a series. Maybe it will even up – but not with the next tour, which is also of a book in a series.


  4. I never liked short stories. If it is worth the read at all, I want it long and in a series. Being done a series is like losing a loved one, so sad.


  5. I hope not. I love short stories and I love long stories. I even love novellas. I hope this is a phase and people get into the long stories again.


  6. I also pray short stories come back because you’re right. It’s very difficult to submit short stories to magazines and it doesn’t pay much if at all. Luckily, I write for the love of it.


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