For the record, I don’t like short stories.
Not because the writing is bad per se (although some of them were written while I was still in high school, so neither is the writing deathless prose). Rather, they don’t work because they aren’t really short stories at all.
They’re novel back stories masquerading as short stories.
That just seems to be the way my brain works: my stories come to me novel length.
(If my WIP is any indication, my stories come to me trilogy length.)
I don’t really like reading short stories either because they’re too, well short.
For me, the best part about reading (and writing) is observing the growth and change in the characters. And while I’m sure it’s possible to create a strongly character-driven short story, I just want more.
I want to spend chapters with the character – volumes with him/her, through numerous challenges, successes, failures, through his/her darkest moment.
I want to experience the pathos of the character, the metaphorical destruction and rebirth. I want to slip that character on like a costume and become him/her.
There’s just not enough words for all that in a short story. This is the same reason I tend to dislike movies (especially movies adapted from novels). You can’t develop a character effectively in two hours. With a TV series, on the other hand, I’ll ride that character arc like a California surfer.
So, no – I don’t like short stories.
I do, however, like a competition.
My eye on the signs
Sci-fi/fantasy writer Chuck Wendig posts weekly short story exercises on his blog. Usually they involve writing a piece of up to 1000 words, and usually the exercise is pitched merely as a fun way to get in some writing practice.
Recently, however, the exercise was turned into a competition for which the winners would receive a number of Wendig’s writing ebooks.
I could easily buy his writing ebooks, but the chance to win them awoke the competitive beast inside me.
So too did the nature of the competition: a complete story in only three sentences, to an upwards of 100 words.
That is to say, a short story on crack. I should have hated the idea.
But inspiration struck when I heard on the news about the secret experiments the online dating site OK Cupid conducted on its users.
In one particular experiment, OK Cupid told pairs who were only 30% compatible that they were actually 90% compatible, and discovered that by telling people they were a good match, the people in turn behaved as if they were.
That story recalled to me the secret experiments that Facebook previously conducted on its users, manipulating the number of positive and negative posts in people’s news feeds to determine how this effected what users went on the post themselves. (They discovered that moods were contagious.)
Considering these two news items jointly, my mind reached the obvious conclusion:
Hence my super-short story:
Inevitably, when word got out about the social media psych experiments, the response was outrage – that making people artificially happy or sad or attracted to those they’d normally eschew was unprincipled, and that some things were best left to the heart and the heavens, and only a minimally intrusive amount of mathematics.
The social media psych heads made the appropriate sounds of contrition in public, yet silently marked the day of forced human breeding much closer than many knew to count.
The truth, indeed, lie among the stars.
I didn’t end up winning the competition, but I’m still proud I was able to express myself succinctly for once!
What do you think of short stories? Writers, do your stories usually come to you short or long? Is anyone else as creeped out by Facebook and OK Cupid’s human experiments as I am? Let me know in the comments.