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.