Over the last ten years, I have attempted to build up the most extensive knowledge I can manage (without those pesky life distractions getting in the way) of the short story form and its variety of modern and early writers. A shattered attention span, combined with a desire for fiction to be shorter and pack a bit of a punch led me into the wonderful, and often quite bizarre, world of the short story.
Pretty much all of your favourite authors have tried their hand at short story writing at some point in their career, but very few have actually made a name for themselves as successful short story writers in addition to being novelists. Authors such as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Sylvia Plath immediately spring to mind as writers who have achieved this almost impossible juggling, some stories of which have led to successful movie and radio adaptations.
And why? I’ll tell you why. Because short stories are that perfect length wherein barely any action can take place, but you finish reading feeling like you’ve been spun upside down and around repeatedly on an emotional rollercoaster. They could consist of just a page worth of text, but you could experience the same sort of reader satisfaction that one would get after finishing a five-hundred-page novel.
As well as authors who dabble in the form, there are also those who have built a career around writing short stories. Regrettably, however, writers like Shirley Jackson, Katherine Mansfield, Ray Bradbury and Ben Okri tend to receive less credibility due to the relative unpopularity of the short story as a medium. Some think that this is due, not to a lack of writing quality, but to a supposed long-standing academic view that the short story is a bit inferior to the novel. I, obviously, disagree.
From its roots in fables and fairy tales to its development as fictional pieces in Victorian magazines following a strict word count, it is an important part of literary history, and deserves to be treated as an equally valuable medium.
Along with the development of modern technology, the short story can now be accessed in a variety of different forms; the traditional story within a written anthology, a free sample on the old Kindle, or even through an emotive Twitter thread. Perhaps the most prolific medium, however, is the former. There is nothing more weirdly satisfying than a story that begins as soon as your train pulls out of the station, or your bus out of the terminal, and ends – preferably and often – when you need to get off and get on with your life.