Why I Hate Short Stories: A Short Article on Why Short Fiction is Short on Interest

I don't like short stories. I have never made this a secret. There is the occasional writer like Mark Twain, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez who writes short stories that I like. But these writers are few and far between.

So leaving aside the exceptions to the rule, I'm talking about the short story in general here when compared to other modes of prose fiction. We're talking about Flash/Short shorts, some prose poetry, and The Novel here. I like those forms. I don't like short stories. Here are the reasons in convenient list format:

1.) Short stories are a marketing tool, not a sensible aesthetic unit. Once upon a time, short stories were a means of making money for writers and a means of providing content for magazines in an era when those magazines did not have to compete with television and radio for entertainment. This is a short article, so I am not citing evidence for this, what matters is that they were the draw to move copies and pad with advertising in an age that has passed into history. This function of the short story is no longer relevant. What is relevant is that there are only a few places still publishing short stories after this original model. It's telling that one of the most widely read of these is kept behind the counter in convenience stores and is poly-bagged to keep prying eyes away from the lurid pictures. Not that people don't read Playboy for the articles, they do, but it's also a stroke mag and one should not forget that either.

2.) Nobody makes money from short stories and most people don't have any interest in short stories. As a result, most short stories are just boring workshop fiction. Why is this? Because literary magazines that publish short stories have become via fiat a clearing house for people trying to be professors of literature and/or get novels published. What this means is that most places where you read short stories they're written not to entertain people, but rather to help improve the resumés of the people writing them. Put another way, most of the short stories published today are written not because the person writing the story wants to tell a good story, but rather because that person wants to be a writer and he has been told by many people that in order to be a writer, he must begin by writing short stories. There are of course notable exceptions to this. Strange, deluded mutants do exist who enjoy the form for its own sake and for some bizarre reason have decided to continue writing good work here. I'm not talking about those people. I'm talking about the people who show up in Best American New Writers and their ilk who write predictable boring pablum in the hopes that once they have a list of credentials that is long enough, some literary agent will get them work that has a hope of making money by selling a novel for them.

Which brings me to 3.) Because short stories are nothing more than a vehicle for recognition by most writers, they don't matter. They are, by and large, creations that exist only to serve to boost the egos of the people who write them. very rare is the ten page story that could not be told just as well in a page long piece of flash fiction or that would not be better served as an episode in a longer narrative within a novel. Again, there are exceptions. Nobody is ever going to get me to agree that "The Hunger Artist" should have been flash or a novel. That's ridiculous. But then, most short story writers are not Franz Kafka. If they were, we would not be having this conversation.

So that's it. I don't like short stories because they are out of date with their purpose, they are mostly total crap, and they only exist for the most part because some people are insecure egomaniacs who think it would make their lives better if they could describe themselves as a writer.

I am a writer. I have a decent resumé myself. But i don't delude myself that that is a meaningful accomplishment. It isn't. Being a writer doesn't mean shit, no matter what Nick Mamatas thinks. All writers are mostly just bullshit artists and not worth spending time thinking over. And their short stories, by the tens of thousands of reams, are worth even less.

Comments

Just to be clear, I'm working

Just to be clear, I'm working on an essay called "Why I Love Short Stories".

"Short stories are a

"Short stories are a marketing tool, not a sensible aesthetic unit."

Since the short story was invented by writers like Poe and Hawthorne, who hardly made a killing on their stories, it isn't the case that the short story came into being as a marketing tool. It is an entirely sensible aesthetic unit for those writers who think fiction can retain some of the qualities of poetry and doesn't have to take the form of the bloated narrative. If the short story has been corrupted by its utility for workshop careerists (and I agree with you that it has), this is not a flaw in the form itself but in the academic mentality and in the professionalization of writing in general. When the era of Creative Writing passes, as it will, inspired writers will reinvent the short story.

"I'm talking about the short

"I'm talking about the short story in general here when compared to other modes of prose fiction. We're talking about Flash/Short shorts, some prose poetry, and The Novel here."

Don't forget the screenplay story.

d'oh!

"All writers are mostly just bullshit artists and not worth spending time thinking over"

Why did you shoot yourself in the foot in your final paragraph? All your fine reasons kind of go down the drain here: the real problem is not that the medium is lacking, but that most authors are. Most novels are unimpressive as well.

But that point is so obvious and non-controversial that it wouldn't merit a blog post...

that wasnt quite my point.

that wasnt quite my point. the point being that unlike, say, the novel, which even an incompetent boob like Nick Mamatas can manage to make mildly entertaining, the short story is a waste of time that even when it's written by someone who generally knows what they're doing is often total garbage. so in the end it's best to pay no attention to the form and let it glide into the recesses of history where it belongs.

Couldn't agree more

I want to publish a novel and am just now, 10 years after graduating from college, wondering if I should screw around with a couple short stories just to pad my resume.

I avoided workingon-publishing them for years, for exactly the reasons you mention: 1) I have no interest in them 2) No one else has any real interest in them, including the people writing and editing them 3) You don't get paid to write them 4) They are masturbatory grad-school tripe that generally suck because, like MFA programs themselves, they are nothing more than political machinery for aspiring novelists 5) They actually take quite a long time to get good at 6) Perfecting one can be very time consuming

However, I am thinking it wouldn't be too hard to whip out a couple short stories to get published in these dumb magazines just to pad my resume. Still not sure if I'm going to "sell out" in this regard, though. However, since I didn't get my MFA, I'm not sure if any of these magazines would be interested in publishing me.

The entire MFA-short story construct is a self-perpetuating sham that has bored itself into irrelevancy.

See the last three paragraphs

See the last three paragraphs of this post of mine:
http://ericswritingblog.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/the-stories/

how ignorant, but it's

how ignorant, but it's probably not your fault; it only shows that you've probably never read any good stuff. people undermine classical music because many have never heard a symphony orchestra in its full force, people hate stage theater because the only one many of them saw was a suburban school play or else in the movies, etc.. does their judgment matter? thankfully not, their loss, they have just not made the cut into higher echelons of culture (sounds pretentious but I am not, just languid talker). remember like any art form, it's not important what but how. money-wise, don't let that bastard lead your life story. good luck, hope you wrote your book(s) by now.

That is just nonsense. That's

That is just nonsense. That's like saying I'll only listen to whole albums, not songs. If you like prose poetry and flash fiction, I see not much difference between that and a short story, except a short story may have more characters or events that require more pages to be developed.

Sure, some people write stories for publicity purposes, as they do many other things, but I'm sure many love the form, too. A novel is a long (sometimes boring) experience, but a short story can be intense (although less deep in scope).

You can illuminate a point in a sentence. You don't always need 300 pages to gain insight or to move people. Most books are just a short story stretched with a lot padding so that it can sell.

your analogy is specious and

your analogy is specious and does not address the actual substance of any of my points.