Once upon a time, the way to publishing a novel was (usually) to make your bones as a short fiction writer first. Plenty of periodicals published short stories, and the very talented could even make a living at it.
These days, not so much. There are still some enormously talented writers of short fiction making a go of it, but most working writers agree that it’s novels that pay the bills (or, more often than not, don’t). And more and more writers go straight to writing novels without the “stepping stone” of short fiction, for which the market seems to have dwindled almost to nothing. Think of how many anthologies used to line the shelves 20 or 30 years ago, and look at them now. The circulation of the few remaining fiction periodicals is enough to make a lover of short fiction weep.
Yet opportunities and finances aside, most writers will tell you that short fiction and novels are different art forms. Some writers of short fiction can’t imagine sustaining a story for 100,000 words, while some novelists can’t manage to make a statement in 3,000.
I enjoy both forms, but they’re very different pleasures with very different challenges. For me, short fiction is much harder, yet when I finish a short story I feel has worked I feel a much higher rush. It’s also more difficult to accomplish certain feats of characterization or plot in a short period, and you’ve got to stick to one theme or emotion rather than many changing ones. For those, like me, who like large casts of characters, short fiction is not an option for those stories.
As a reader, do you seek out short fiction? Do you find it offers a different pleasure from novels?
As a writer, do you prefer one form or the other? If you write both, how do you find your work differs from one form to the other?
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