I know many readers aren’t that into short stories and much prefer sinking their teeth into an epic novel, but I absolutely adore them. Thanks to Jen and Tam setting up Brief Encounters Reviews, I now have a source of great reviews to help me choose my next m/m short story. I’m going to use their definition of a short story as being anything up to 20,000 words, which includes the whole spectrum from drabbles (100 words exactly) to novelettes.
Here are my top six reasons why short stories rock:
They’re quick to read
This is a huge bonus for me, as a busy mum and writer. Back when I had plentiful free time, I used to lose whole days devouring huge, brick-like novels, including lengthy fantasy series and classics like War and Peace. However, these days I generally only find the odd half hour at either end of the day to read, so I tend to lose track of where I am in a longer work. I really appreciate being able to finish a story in one sitting – or at least within a few days of starting it so I haven’t forgotten how it started by the time I reach the end.
They’re often free (or very cheap)
Okay, I know that the prices publishers charge can seem like a rip-off when compared to novel length stories, but the canny reader can find scores of free self-published short story ebooks out there – just try browsing the freebies at Smashwords and All Romance eBooks. And if you’re willing to read online, many publishers and writers have free shorts on their websites too.
I do buy individual short stories, but I also go for anthologies as they’re a great source of cheap short stories – the price per story is usually less than a dollar. There are also huge numbers of $0.99 short stories available on Amazon – usually self-published.
They’re great for sampling new authors
I’ve found plenty of new favourite authors through reading shorts in anthologies, and some new friends as well! This is why I think it’s so important that shorts are carefully drafted and edited – for me, they’re often the first (and possibly only) chance an author will get to hook me in. If I love someone’s short story I will always buy something longer by them.
I have to admit, I won’t often buy novels that are pure erotica as I find it can get quite tiresome if the whole plot is sex, and there’s no guarantee of a happy ending. However, I’m perfectly happy to read erotica in short story format.
They force writers to get to the heart of the story
With a limited word count, writers don’t tend to include so much of the pointless filler scenes, convoluted backstory and info-dumps that can plague longer, poorly edited m/m novels (especially from certain publishers, who shall remain nameless). I’m not saying all shorts are perfect and I’ve certainly read a few duds in my time, but I think that writers tend to focus more carefully on their words when they have a limited number of them to make an impression. They’re also far less likely to lose sight of the central thrust of the story.
Another thing that consistently delights me when authors get it right, is the beautiful simplicity of a well-crafted short story. I love the fact that a story can be set entirely in one scene, or one location, or within a strictly limited time frame. Many of my favourite tv series episodes and plays are set in one location and unfold in real time, so perhaps it’s no coincidence that I love it when short stories do this too.
They let writers and readers experiment
There are plenty of sub-genres, tropes and themes out there that don’t grab me so much and I’d be wary of reading at novel length (including, but not limited to, dark fantasy, high fantasy, hardcore BDSM, kidnapping, space opera, vampires and shifters), but that I’m perfectly willing to sample in a short story. Similarly, I’m not all that interested in reading long novels that are either angst-fests or super-fluffy (I prefer a more nuanced mix), but I can handle shorts at either extreme.
Other things writers might experiment with in shorts, but which might become tiresome at novel length, are unconventional points of view (second person, for instance), present tense narration, dialogue only, and highly unsympathetic narrators. I can’t cope with being inside the head of a character I don’t like for a whole novel, but I’ll go with it for a short.
There are also shorts out there dealing with all kinds of kinks that don’t often make it to longer novels, including cross-dressing heroes. God, I’d love to see more of those at novel length!
So those are my top six reasons for reading short stories. What do you all reckon? Do you read many shorts, and if so, what are your reasons for doing so? And those who don’t care for shorts, I’d love to know why!
Oh yes, and if you want to read any of my short stories for free, you can find links to downloadable ebooks here, and the free reads on my website here.