How to Read Very Short Fiction and Enjoy It
Accessorized Literature vs Stripped Down Short Stories
People can be very different when it comes to something like purchasing a new vehicle. There are those who love all the accessories and gadgets available today. Others opt for hand-cranked windows. How about you? Do you check your tire pressure by looking at a digital reading on your dashboard or by sticking the gauge on the tire valve stem? Some people are utilitarian, others are quixotic and love to dress things up.
We can see this same phenomenon in the literature we choose to read. Some enjoy the ornate prose of the literary style. Others are taken away in thrillers, mysteries, and horror.
It isn’t only the genre and style of literature that appeal to us or turn us off. We also have preferences when it comes to the form of the writing. One aspect of form has to do with the length of the story.
Long Fiction or Short Fiction?
In one of my articles, I included a poll regarding my readers’ preferences for story length. Out of one hundred respondents, one person said they preferred very short stories. Fifty-two chose novel-length stories. Those who prefer very short fiction are like the utilitarian who still manually pushes the car door lock down. They don’t want all the accessories that come with the longer story.
Some people shy away from the very short story, also called flash fiction, because it looks to them like an aberration of real literature. When the novel lover looks at a very short story, their expression might be similar to that of a bird watcher who expects to view ducks through his binoculars but spots a platypus instead. There are similarities, but something’s wrong. The novel reader has certain expectations about what they read which very short stories don’t seem to meet.
If It Sort of Looks like a Duck, It Must Be a Duck, Right?
Do you have the same expectations for your bicycle that you have for your automobile? Are your expectations the same for a five-star restaurant and a fast food place? Should our expectations for an eighty thousand word novel be the same as those for a one thousand word short story?
A reader might have the opinion that only amateur, inexperienced writers write very short stories. I won’t argue the point because there is some truth to that conception. Shorter must be simpler, right? Well, the short story does not take as long to write, but it requires at least the same amount of talent and skill to write as does a novel. The problem is, there are a lot of poorly written short stories being self-published just as there is an abundance of poorly written long fiction. The good stuff is out there, and at the end of this article, I will point you to two excellent sources of online short fiction.
Long Fiction/Short Fiction, A Story is a Story, Right? Think Again
Authors write novels and short fiction very differently. The reader will do well to keep this in mind. The enjoyment of reading a short story will be enhanced if the reader has the appropriate expectations. The difference between long and short fiction is comparable to the difference between a mansion and a cabin on the lake. Long fiction gives the reader everything they could want in the story including backstories, side stories, and many complex characters. Short fiction avoids these elements and tells the bare bones of the story in a fast-paced, exciting way.
Bare Bones Fiction
Seven Ways to Adjust Your Thinking About Reading Short Stories
In order to read a very short story and enjoy it, keep in mind these facts:
- Limited characters—A good short story will have one, two or possibly three named characters. There will be other characters, but likely they won’t even be named.
- No background—The story will begin as close to the action and main point of the story as possible. Background, if mentioned at all, will be filled in as the story progresses.
- Fast paced—Not only does the story begin close to the action; it maintains this pace throughout. A well-written thriller in the short fiction format will leave you breathless.
- No side stories—These are similar to backstory except they create a whole new story about people or circumstances related to the main story. There won’t be any of this in a good piece of short fiction.
- Gripping—The first sentence or two should grab your attention and not let it go until the end. The very short story should be difficult to put down.
- The End is Near—It comes fast. Many works of very short fiction are one thousand words or even fewer. If you settle in for the long haul like you do when you read a novel, you will be disappointed. A reader can snuggle up on the couch with a novel and a cup of tea. The very short story might well be read while sitting on the edge of your chair.
- The tension—should begin immediately and rise until you’ve read about two-thirds of the story where it reaches its climax. That will all likely happen on the same page as the opening. In a novel, that would happen somewhere around page three hundred seventy-five.
The Greatest Writers of History
When you think about the names of great writers, who comes to mind? Hemingway?
I'll make a list of
Some of the favorite writers of history. See if you recognize many of these names:
- O Henry
- Conan Doyle
I'll leave out some critical names and jump to Stephen King. All of these great writers were/are predominantly if not exclusively short story writers. Did you catch that? The greatest writers in history may not have been novelists, but short story writers. So you recognized many of these men and women as great writers, but you didn't realize they are remembered today because of their short stories.
The Best Utility Vehicle Ever Made...In My Opinion
The Very Short Story: the Stripped Down, Utility Format for Fiction
When it comes to automobiles, some people have their luxury model which they take out for most of their driving needs. But parked out back or on the other side of the garage is that stripped down, reliable vehicle that never lets them down. It’s perfect for the back roads and two tracks that take them places the luxury model never could. It’s the same with short fiction. It will take you on quick trips to places you might never see if you confine yourself to long fiction. So clear out that parking spot on the other side of your literary garage, and try some quality short fiction on occasion.
Two Sources for High Quality Short Fiction
LetterPile.com is where I and many other capable writers share our short stories, which range from fewer than a thousand words to longer stories with multiple parts, under the teal blue Creative Writing tab.
The Creative Exiles is a site where you can find some top-notch short stories as well as fantastic poetry. For short stories, click on the Creative Writing tab at the top and choose Short Stories from the drop-down menu.
My Articles on Literature
- Literary Fiction and Genre Fiction, What's the Difference?
Someone recommends a book which you grab off Amazon and kick back with expectations of your socks being knocked off. Somehow your socks stay on and the book gathers dust. What is great literature?
- The Meaning of Genre in Literature
Is there a difference between genre and form in literature or are genre and form the same? Is fiction a genre or a form? How about poetry, romance or fantasy. Here are one writer's thoughts.