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Monday, 25 March 2013

Short stories and a reader's expectations

The Nebula awards defines a short story as less than 7,500 wds, but I'm not sure what some people are expecting when they pick a book described as a short story.

Sometimes I see reviews declaring that a story was too short, but the book turns out to actually be novelette length which is up to 17.5K wds. This suggests to me the reviewer wasn't looking to read a short story. Some short stories don't deliver, some do, but you can't go into reading them expecting a novel.

One thing I can tell you, it's not going to have a long and complex plot, because if it is strictly a short story there aren't enough words for that. It might be an element in a long and complex plot, whether the author produces the rest of the plot in print of not, but with that number of words there is not going to be the whole thing. That's not to say short stories can't be complex, they can be, but you're never going to get War and Peace into 7.5K wds.

What a short story usually does have:
  • a beginning
  • a middle
  • an end
  • characters
What I look for in a short story is an encapsulated happening in that you meet the characters, something happens and then there is a resolution. It may not be the whole resolution, especially if the story is part of a series, but if there is no closure of anything, even on a small scale, I tend to feel cheated.

I am sure there are literary short stories out there that don't have all the elements, but if I'm reading genre, that's what I expect. I don't read literary fiction as a rule, because it doesn't have any of the things I like :).

I have read short stories I thought were absolutely brilliant, short stories that gave me nothing and short stories from every level in between. I love short stories, because they don't take the commitment to read that a novel does. I love novels too, but sometimes I'm just in the mood for something quicker to read. From a good author a short story can have all the richness of a novel, just with a less encompassing plot and fewer words.

It saddens me when I see a good short story on Amazon or Smashwords with a bad review because the person reviewing didn't take the time to read the part of the product description that says short story. Kindle are nice enough to tell you how many pages are in the book and Smashwords give you an approx word count, so even if it's not in the blurb the length is obvious.

Short stories are great, stop being down on them world because they are exactly what they advertise to be; short.

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