Posts in "short story" category

What is the Perfect Length for Short Stories?

short-story-length-saved-for-webThe perfect length of a short story can be tricky to figure out. Make it too long and you exceed the reader’s attention span and nobody wants to publish it; make it too short and you have flash fiction on your hands.

Edgar Allan Poe described the proper length of a short story by saying it had to be something readable in a single sitting. I like that. It measures a short story by reading time, rather than page length or word count. But I think word count is the easiest way to measure story length.

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How to Write a Short Story: The Complete Guide in 9 Steps

How to write a short storyNovels are difficult to write because of size, but short stories are difficult because they require perfection.

Any tiny little mistake in a short story becomes magnified into gigantic proportions.

If a minor character fails to come alive in a novel, you can forgive the error because there is so many other things to enjoy, but if a minor character falls flat in a short story, a reader will become annoyed and a literary magazine editor will throw it away.

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72 Short Story Ideas To Supercharge Your Writing

short-1Are you ready to write a short story, but not sure where to start? Get some new ideas today with these diverse and engaging short story ideas. 

Though I’ve broken them up into subcategories, don’t feel limited by the headings. Feel free to add some romance to a supernatural story, or frame a family tale in a historical or dystopian setting.

The key to using these short story ideas is an open, flexible mind. Use these prompts as springboards, and then follow your inspiration.

The first half of these short story ideas are general categories — Humor, Family, Power, Plot Twist — while the second half offers story ideas in specific genres — Fantasy, Horror, Dystopian, Crime, Sci-Fi, Romance.

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30 Small But Awesome Online Literary Magazines

Mary oliverEvaluating online literary magazines can be tough. According to Duotrope, there are thousands out there and more popping up every day. It’s just not that difficult to throw up a website and start publishing friends.

But the online literary journals below raise the bar far higher. They have made publishing online not just a vehicle for disseminating information, but used the best parts of the internet to create a legitimate art form.

The best way to evaluate a online literary magazine is to read a few of the stories. They’re all available, so why not? If they exclusively publish sestinas about the Iraq war and your story is about incest in a Midwestern family, it’s just not a good fit.

As they say, it’s not you, it’s just your writing. (As if you could ever separate those things).

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“Uneven” Short Story Collections

One of the most common critiques I hear for short story collections is that they’re “uneven.” I don’t hear it very often for novels, and only occasionally as a critique of an author’s oeuvre.

A few brief samples:

  • Publisher’s Weekly called David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” uneven.
  • Seattle Times called Evan S. Connell’s “Lost In Uttar Pradesh” uneven.
  • Martin Amis’s “Heavy Water and Other Stories” called uneven.
  • In the LA Times, John Freeman called John Updike’s “My Father’s Tears” an uneven collection.

It’s not exaggerating to call it the most frequent criticism leveled at short story collections. But I wonder whether this critique is effective or informative.

I think the “uneven” critique is particularly prejudiced against short story collections that embrace a wide variety of forms, such as pairing postmodern meta-fiction along with Carver-type realism and throwing in some genre-inspired work.

Almost inevitably, the reviewers tastes will lean towards one style or another, and they’ll laud half the collection and slam the other half. So the critical matrix of short story reviewers (where “uneven” or “even” is used to judge collections) encourages a form-based, limited type of “unity” to collections, and discourage a thematic or innovative type of unity.

“Uneven” also says more about a reviewer’s taste than about the content itself. I know this is tricky waters — how would one separate the reviewer’s taste from their evaluation of content? — but I feel as if the word uneven is shorthand for “I liked some stories and I didn’t like others,” which doesn’t tell me much about whether I would like the same stories or dislike the ones disliked.

Also, saying that some stories are liked and others disliked is a bit of a cop-out, review-wise. You could direct this criticism at virtually all collections — aren’t collections, by their nature, created so some stories stand out of the pack, and seem better than others?

Uneven also means the reviewers are judging the collection as a mosaic of pieces, rather than as a unified whole. For some collections, this is the appropriate approach, but for others, it might be better to judge it as a cohesive beast, the same way one might read and review a novel. A good collection accomplishes a certain goal, and the reviewer should pay attention to the degree to which that goal is attained, talking about the collection as a single entity.

John Grisham’s Ford County

On November 3rd, John Grisham is dipping into the short story realm with his first collection, “Ford County,” which has a manly ring to it (it’s where his first novel, A Time to Kill, takes place). Nice to have the commercial boys dip into a realm normally owned by the literary folk. I predict sales that haven’t been seen since Steven King published his last short story collection.

There’s a video interview with him, in which he describes his motivation for writing this collection: “Well, I tried everything else but poetry.” Oh, if only all short story writers could have such noble aspirations.

Grisham says that they’re long short stories — there are only seven — but no matter the length, it’s excellent publicity for the form.

Fiction Bonanza

There's a flurry of new short stories being released over at Five Chapters these next fifteen days. Instead of serializing a story over five days, there's a new short story each day, including some from collections I've been reading lately — Jennine Capo Crucet, who won the Iowa Short Fiction award this year, and Lori Ostlund, the Flannery O'Connor Award winner. 

It's being called the Infinite FiveChapters, and while this a flagrant abuse of the word Infinite, we'll let it slide because A) hyperbole is fun, and B) end of summer blowouts are especially good when they involve short stories.

Some others scheduled to show up:
  • Lauren Grodstein
  • Adam Davies (who's been showing up everywhere recently!)
  • Samantha Peale
  • Victor Lodato
  • Tania James
The full schedule includes many more authors.

Short Stories as Moles; or, the Literary Journal Scene in Germany

Thanks to Absinthe Minded (great name, by the way), for referring me to this article in the Goethe Institut about the literary journal/short story scene in Germany. Love the opening:

“Like moles, literary magazines burrow through the subsoil and often bring literary treasures to light. They live on self-exploitation, are sometimes short-lived and bizarre, and publish against the mainstream. And they sometimes feel out trends that later rock the literary scene with truly eruptive success.”

The article goes on to discuss the career of Günter Eich, how circulations run between 30 and 30,000 (ha! — love the lowballing), and the stubbornly long literary journal name “das heft das seinen langen namen ändern wollte.”

Rolf Grimminger, quoted in the articles, notes the changing role of literary journals:

“The significance of literary magazines has changed greatly in recent decades. In the 1950s is canada pharmacy online safe they were still a real medium of information about what was going on and about authors and the possibilities of writing. Then competition came in the form of features articles in newspapers and audio-visual media”. Today the charm of many magazines is precisely their niche existence and their subversive subterranean activities.”

He’s right about the persevering charm of literary magazines — for many of them, it is about filling a (admittedly small) niche. In the U.S., though, I doubt that feature articles in newspapers were ever offering competition. The rising competition is certainly audio-visual media, especially since publishers are now wanting books themselves to be multimedia shows.

The course for most journals seems not towards mainstream status and struggling against the parameters of their niche, but working on embracing, exploring, and digging deeper into those niches.

10 Greatest Short Story Writers?

Greatest Short Story WritersOver at Listverse, they do a great job of amassing a huge number of Top 10 Lists, but the ten greatest short story writers is wack.

Okay, they have some shoo-ins (oh, and they limit it to American short story writers). O’Henry? I’ll grant that. Poe? Sure.

Then debatables. Asimov? Well, he’s a talented writer, especially if you’re in the SF scene, so that one could be argued in terms of preference. And same goes for Steven King.

But Ray Bradbury, I’ll grant that fullstop — he’s a guy who’s risen above genre to the level of pure greatness (although his greatness is certainly in his past, and not in the drivel he keeps pushing out these days).

And sorry, JD Salinger just doesn’t make the cut. Nine stories is really his only proper story collection (the others are novellas). Besides, he’s really known for Catcher in the Rye. Except if when he dies he comes out with a treasure trove of stuff he’s been writing for decades — then he might well turn into a contender for the list.

Also got to argue with Updike. His fame rests on the Rabbit books and other novels, and though I respect his facility with poetry and essays and short stories, it’s still all about the novels.

The ultimate WTF moment? Chuck Palahniuk. Seems like the list author had a secret Man Crush, cause there is no other way Chucky is getting on this list (even despite the kick-ass I-am-Wolverine photo)

What we desparately need is some Cheever, some Flannery, some Hemingway, some Carver, and less of a list weighted toward Genre Folk and Old Fuddy Duddies.

Of course, if you’d like to argue as well, you can wade into the forum and join the 202 commenters who have already given their two cents.

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Guardian Summer Short Stories

The Guardian has released their summer short story bonanza, which includes some as short as a thousand words.

Dave Eggers offers “A Fork Brought Along,” which has the amazing distinction of being the funniest story I’ve ever read about a fork.

AM Holmes contributes “All Is Good Except The Rain” which has so much dialogue it resembles a play, but two women having a discussion over lunch turns into very strange affairs, ala typical AM Holmes style (my favorite story of hers — “Georgica” — has a woman spying on lovers at the beach, waiting until they leave so she can extract the fluid from condoms and impregnate herself with it. Shocking and haunting.)

In “The Massive Rat,” which offers his Black Swan Green world from the Father’s perspective, David Mitchell wins the award for best verb — “Me and Lorna have sort of Berlinned the house into her zone and mine” — and for the cheesiest coincidence (read it).

Also includes William Boyd, Julie Myerson, and the winner of their short story competition, Lisa Blower.

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