Monday, 3 August 2015

Hey Shortie!

A great many people I speak to tell me there are few pleasures they enjoy more than losing themselves in a novel. I can relate to that. I love hunkering down in my chair, feet up, mug of tea at my elbow, cat curled up in my lap.

And – if it is cold outside – a fire burning merrily in the fireplace.

Short fiction however is enjoying a new surge in popularity. Regardless of whether you are a reader or a writer, there are lots of reasons to pay attention. Fortunately, there is a virtual smorgasbord of types of short fiction, ranging from flash fiction to the novella, to choose from.

Generally speaking, younger people have shorter attention spans. The popularity of computer gaming, movies and television has bred a generation of readers and viewers accustomed to quick scene changes and lots of action. One article I read likened current attention spans to about eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish. Short fiction appeals to these people, especially flash fiction which is generally under 2000 words. My flash fiction story, Torch song for Two Voices (That Golden Summer, Polar Expressions Publishing, 2014) came out to just under 600 words.

The increasing popularity of using electronic devices, especially tablets and even cell phones for reading, invites shorter pieces. It is hard to imagine someone reading War and Peace on a cell phone. One friend of mine tells me she reads on her cell phone while standing in line at the checkout counter in the supermarket.

Travel is a third reason for the popularity of short fiction. The frequent distractions associated with sitting in airports and on planes lend themselves to shorter reads.

For the same reason, I think short story anthologies are ideal gifts for people recuperating from illness or surgery. Illness, medication, discomfort all contribute to short attention spans. The collective of which I am a member, the Mesdames of Mayhem, have been able to make copies of our 2013 anthology Thirteen available for sale in the Toronto Hospital gift shop.

I’ve also given a copy of Thirteen to my hairdresser to keep in the salon. He tells me that many of his clients pick up the book and read a story or more while having their hair attended to. A client can easily read two or three stories in that time and not feel frustrated at not being able to finish the book while there.

Studying the craft of the short story is excellent training for aspiring writers. Like the novel, the short story by and large depends on Freytag’s Pyramid for structure.

And while the short story has characteristics of its own, it is an excellent way to focus on the elements of plotting, character revelation, setting and perhaps most important, learning to write tight.

Writing short fiction, as the name suggests, also allows the aspiring author to complete a work and to critique it. And with the many short story anthologies and competitions available, it gives him/her an opportunity to get published and gain recognition, all of which are important when trying to market the manuscript of a novel.

And for the experienced author, he or she can write short fiction alongside longer pieces and thus keep their name in front of publishers, agents, and especially readers, while working on their next bestseller!!

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