Monday, March 9, 2009

Short stories.

Back in the dark ages, when I was young and we still had fax machines, covered wagons and dinosaurs roamed the wild and empty plains (huddling together to smoke, because of the laws that drove them out of diners. (Smoking killed the dinosaurs. They died of cold)... erhm. I seem to have lost my train of thought, which could be because I have far too much going on in my woolly pate for good logical thought and/or blogging right now... Anyway - When I was young we had short story pulp magazines. It was how my mother started reading sf, let alone me. Short stories and, most addictive and frustrating, serials, got me to know many of my favorite authors. The pulp magazine was a great 'tester-taster' which helped many a young author make a name, and incidentally (corrected for inflation) some money which was not just loose change. It wasn't wealth but it was not to be sneered at either. Circulation of 125 000 + made them influential in a small-ish field and the various awards reflect this. Short story, novella, novellette... and novel.

Shorts -and the magazines that carry them - have shrunk in stature and sales. The idea of having a 'novella' and novelette and short award (3/4 of the awards) as more or less equals to a novel when their sales, put together may not amount to 1/10 of one bestseller is faintly ridiculous. Reality suggests best short work and then a dozen or so sub-categories of novel... but that's another discussion. What I was meandering around was the way that the shrinking shorts market had altered the way in which novels are written.

You see I am a passionate believer in shorts. There is no finer training ground, IMO, for novelists. Just as poetry teaches us to work effectively within constraints, shorts teach the tools of powerful brief characterisation and effective plotting. Writing shorts produces disciplined, fast-paced writers, with coherent plotting skills. If you want to be one, write shorts.
Otherwise you'll write long confused waffle - just as I did in the first paragraph. A shorts writer will tell the story, neatly, cleanly and without wasting words to no purpose.