Kirsty on short stories
It's International Short Story Day; in these attention-deficient times, short stories have never been more relevant. Our columnist Kirsty Logan explains why publishers, booksellers and readers should take note...
Today is International Short Story Day, so it’s the perfect time for me to explain why I think that short stories are the future (and get a bit angry about them too):
- Short stories are short. As we’re constantly reminded, attention spans have shrunk to shit. We can’t even sit through a 30-minute TV programme without checking email on our phones, making a cup of tea, looking out of the window and sorting our peanut M&Ms into neat little colour-coded piles (and when I say “we”, I of course mean “I”). But even the most short-attention-spanned person can concentrate on a couple of pages. Best of all, if you pick the right story you’ll be amply rewarded for your attention with an exciting, thoughtful, beautifully written piece that might just change your life.
- Short stories are always with you. As we’re also constantly reminded, no one has any time. Transport, communication and domestic chores are faster than ever, but still we feel like we don’t have enough free time. I’m not really sure what we’re all doing outside of work, creating art, snogging our partners and feeding the cat (don’t mix those up, by the way) – maybe the rest of the world has a very time-consuming hobby that I don’t know about. Short stories are available on phones (via website and apps) and as audio podcasts, so they can fit neatly into the time-gaps in your life. When waiting in a queue, why footer about on Facebook when you can read a perfect wee chunk of story?
- Short stories are perfect for performing. Everyone wants to be able to say “I heard a band before they were famous”, and the same is true of writers. That badass writer you hear at tonight’s spoken word event might be tomorrow’s Booker Prize winner. It’s exciting to feel that you’re a talent-spotter, and to see the rest of the world fall in love with a writer you’ve been reading for ages.
Basically, short stories are the way forward. So why won’t publishers and agents look at them? Conventional wisdom is that when looking for fiction, people want novels, not short stories. Many bookshops don’t have short story sections, and instead lump story collections in with the novels. Some publishers even go so far as to package and market story collections – particularly “linked” story collections, and I’m not even sure what that means – as novels. I find this irritating. I read stories and I read novels, and I feel that as a reader I should be allowed to make my own decision on what I want to read. No one likes to be misled.
I can’t think of a single short story collection that’s had the same advertising or promotion behind it as a novel. I’m sure that publishers would say it’s because people don’t buy story collections, so it makes no economic sense to promote them. But how can people buy it if they don’t know about it?
Catch up, publishers. Rather than bemoan the fact that people aren’t reading massive doorstop books any more, give the public what they want: short, smart, exciting stories that fit into their lives. People certainly won’t buy short stories if there are no good short stories for them to buy.
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