Writing
Why do we write short stories and who reads them?
Category: Writing
Tags: short stories readers writers

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?

The first question is easy to answer – in my case anyway – so I’ll start there.

  • Satisfaction comes more swiftly by writing a few hundred or a few thousand words than it does by completing a full-length novel.
  • Competitions give a chance to validate your work. Merely getting placed on a longlist can boost the spirit. No less the ego. As a writer lacking self-confidence, that gives me further motivation.
  • Writing 2000 words and winning one competition might earn you as much as writing a novel. It’s only a suspicion. I don’t know. Often we writers say we don’t write for money but it is kind of nice.

There are downsides. If the chances of success are there, the odds are high. And is it as satisfying to finish thirty or so short stories as it is to complete a full-length novel?

Although I write short fiction almost exclusively, 98% of my reading is novels, not short stories. I find the experience of full emotional engagement and immersion in the story, over several days or weeks, more satisfying. On the other hand, the high standard of writing required in a short story is hard to keep consistent in the longer form. Perhaps why I hesitate to go there myself.

So, who reads short stories?

  • Writers are more likely to read them than your average reader. Personally, before entering a competition I check out former winners if they’re published on the site. A quick scroll determines the style of writing – literary or perhaps a mixture. Often I flash through to the end in an effort to gauge how conclusive they are. If you call that reading.
  • Short story anthologies, apart from the most prestigious perhaps, are mostly read by friends and family members of the authors. Free downloads are added to the statistics but there is no proof on how many stories are actually read.
  • The general public is more likely to buy a collection of stories if written by a celebrity (Tom Hanks comes to mind) or by a best-selling author – personally, I love Joanne Harris’s “Jigs & Reels”

The latter are the kind of books that build the sales figures and, as a recent Guardian article suggests, “create the myth” that the short story is having a renaissance. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom.  

In France a company called Short Édition is trying to engage the public, both adult and younger readers, by offering free short stories in paper format in over 100 dispensers throughout France, mostly in railway stations. You can choose between a 1, 3 or 5 minute-long story.

This brilliant idea has caught on elsewhere. Francis Ford Coppola, a short story fan himself, has installed a dispenser in his Café Zoetrope in San Francisco. Other places in the States have followed suit, hoping that the novelty of reading fiction from a piece of paper will inspire children, and keep them – at least for a few minutes – from their digital screens.

Like any character in a good story, I’ve had a eureka moment. Writing this has inspired me to read more short stories and I’ve just ordered another collection

There's a story here…
Category: Writing

I have been mulling over ideas for a few competitions with closing dates April/May. I must confess the muse has been somewhat absent. Also, a thread for my blog was less than forthcoming. That is until half an hour ago around 11.30 p.m.

Picture the scene. A front door is unlocked, there is no answer to the person shouting a woman's name. Unusually, the outside garage light is on and light is also shining from the inside. The caller walks through the kitchen and pushes the lounge door which is ajar. A table lamp gives dim light. The name is called again toward a woman lying on a settee at the back of the room. There is no movement. A glance shows a red stain on the floor. Horror! A gentle nudge and the woman tries to sit up. An exhalation of breath in relief. She is in a disoriented state and can't form her words. No blood can be seen on her. Where did it come from? Another attempt to speak. The woman is drunk. On the side table is a half finished tumbler of whisky. The blood? Red wine.

This was my night people. Said lady got home today, picked up by my husband and me. At duty free she must have bought the alcohol and true to form, drank it.

I will now worry all night as the neighbour's house is open to intrusion. We could not lock up as it would mean locking her in - too dangerous. There is no letterbox enabling the keys to be posted back inside and the neighbourhood watch gentleman who holds a spare set of her keys is in the UK. I must ask her for at least a front door key tomorrow - I need sleep and I know I'll not get much tonight. 

This was not the first time, and won't be the last, but never had the scare of 'blood' before.

I don't know why I have not used some of the drink related scenarios that we have dealt with in my writing but watch this space because I think this is going to be the first.

What do you think WA members?

IT'S RAINING GREAT MASTERS! NOT. Monday's Motivational
Category: Writing
Tags: Rubens Turner Tate Britain Stadel motivation talent

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Peter Paul Rubens exhibition in Frankfurt at the Stadel Museum. A month previously, we visited the Tate Britain art museum in London to view the works of J M W Turner. Two hundred years separate Rubens (1577-1640) and Turner (1775-1851) and their masterpieces. However, what struck me about both of them – and one can probably extrapolate this to masters in every field of endeavor over the centuries – is that they did not "fall from heaven". In German there is a marvelous saying: "Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen." Literally: Masters do not just fall from heaven. No, it takes hard work, constant practice and a lot of passion to keep you at it. And yes, a bit of talent would also be helpful.

The commentaries accompanying both of these exhibits certainly confirm this. Although their styles and subject matter were completely different, Rubens and Turner had something in common: They travelled extensively to experience what other artists were doing or had already done, no doubt, with an eye as to what they could learn from them and build on. The Flemish Rubens spent a lot of time in Spain and Italy, studying the masters, even purchasing books of their sketches to copy and rework. Rubens, thus, learned from their techniques and developed them further until he came up with something uniquely his for his canvases depicting religious or mythological subjects. In the early nineteenth century, after having already entered the Royal Academy of Art in London at the age of fourteen, Turner began sketching his way around Europe, filling books with drawings to be used later for his large-format land and seascapes when he returned home to London.

Both artists kept developing their skills over decades, always with an eye to the current "competition", yet in reality, building upon what earlier generations of artists had achieved. It calls up for me the image of a young artist standing on the shoulders of a past master as he climbs towards genius.

What is true for the aforementioned Masters, is true for all artists, regardless of their medium – visual, acoustic or verbal – and regardless of their level of talent. One is capable of taking canvas and a bit of color to paint a masterpiece; another plucks sounds from thin air and conjures melodies; still another transforms words into poetry or tales of love and hate. Such a person seems, to me, a magician, for they create beauty from thin air. Yet he or she would have wasted their talent if they had not studied their craft and been disciplined by hard work.

What lesson I took away for my writing from my brief encounter with Rubens and Turner? To start with, I really need to work harder: read more (learn from the masters), write more (practice), rewrite more (kill those darlings). Please don’t think I dare compare myself to these all-time greats. Obviously, I do not see myself destined to be a Great Master of Anything, but I can make the most of the talent I may have, augmenting it with hard work and looking to the stars of literature for motivation.

Another adage Germans use and I find myself uttering almost daily is:

"Man lernt nie aus." –  You never finish learning.

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