Short stories and why you should embrace them

Yellow Cake You should read short stories because each one will give you the full narrative hit—beginning, middle and end—in double-quick time. You’ll get all—well, most of—the satisfaction of a novel, in one small package that might use up 15–20 minutes of your time.

It only takes that long to have your mind blown, your world expanded, your circle of kindred spirits enlarged—okay, you’ll meet a few love-to-hate types as well, it’s true. But really, it’s such a tiny slice of your day, and in return you get to be transported to another place, another life, a consciousness that challenges or affirms your own. You say you don’t have time to read? Short stories are so short, you really have no excuse.

‘But they’re such a tease,’ you whine. ‘I want to really get into a story’s world, and shorts leave me hanging out for more.’ You’ll be wanting a single-author collection, then—possibly a collection of linked short stories that may or may not add up to a novel? Possibly a collection where an author revisits the universe they created for their trilogy, exploring all its nooks and crannies? How about an anthology where all the authors write stories set in the same fictional world? That can work, too.

You should listen to short stories because, face it, they’re the exact right length for your train or bus commute. And if your job involves a lot of screen time, it’s so much better for your eyes to look out the window at distant things than it is to read text from a book or e-reader.

Oh, and if you happen to have not got in a Quiet Carriage, audio short stories are super-handy for blocking out that person barking orders down their mobile, or those people having that stunningly banal conversation in the seat behind you. You can’t read from a book with all that going on, but you can defend yourself, at the same time as giving your ears and brain a treat, by plugging in to your short story downloads.

And have you seen who’s recording stories these days? You can have the best actors in the world give you a private reading of some small brilliant thing; the best writers in the world will read aloud to you, from their own work or someone else’s.

Whoever you choose, they’ll make you take in the story properly—no reading too fast, no skipping ahead, no dodging big paragraphs of description. You’ll hear the whole thing perfectly paced and articulated, all its story-power intact.

If you’re a writer, you should also write short stories, because they’re in for a resurgence, you know. With all these e-readers and i-players, all this exploration of new publishing forms, by putting out short stories you can keep your readers aware of you in the great gulfs of time between novels. (What, you put out a book a year? All right, you’re excused.) Potential venues, print and online and sometimes both, are increasing all the time.

Go on, give them a try, while it’s still National Short Story Week. If you haven’t sampled them before, I’m pretty sure you’ll soon find yourself in the grip of a new addiction.

Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan’s novels and short story collections have excited readers the world over, and won many prizes, including four World Fantasy Awards – for ‘Singing My Sister Down’ (Best Short Fiction, 2005), Black Juice (Best Collection, 2005), Tender Morsels (Best Novel, 2009) and Sea-Hearts (Best Novella, 2010). Her latest collection of stories is Yellowcake.

Margo lives in Sydney, Australia. Find out more on her blog:

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