In praise of the short story
Readers used to prefer short stories over novels, but not so much anymore. This author laments the decline in popularity, but assures us the short story is here to stay.
by Meg Hafdahl
My career began with a short story.
“Willoughby” debuted in 2014 in an anthology of women’s horror tales. It was not only my first published work of fiction, but also what ultimately led me to now writing my fourteenth book. It was a literary appetizer, a quick and hearty way to convince readers and publishers that I could write.
From this single story I was asked to contribute another story, “The Pit,” and from that came my first story collection in 2015 from Inklings Publishing.
The humble short story can often be overlooked, especially as readers’ habits and tastes have changed over the decades. In the pre-Victorian era, about the time Jane Austen was honing her skills, novels were often considered less than impressive—even a “feminine pursuit” which “true” writers should avoid. Short stories that could be serialized in newspapers and various publications were what the literary men were drawn to, just as the readers of the previous romantic generation had been drawn to poetry as the highest form of literature.
I think we can all agree that in the modern age, the novel has won. With the decline of physical magazines and newspapers, and with the Kindle age of 99-cent trilogies, readers are naturally drawn to immersive worlds that cannot be contained in a few thousand words. I, too, am one of these novel readers. I have read Stephen King’s epic tome It (twice) and spend more time with novels than anything else.
Just as bookstores and libraries didn’t become extinct—as predicted—the short story will never be winked out of existence either.
But I still love short stories.
I’m the author of three story collections, the Twisted Reveries series, and will never stop contributing to the horror short story phenomenon. There is something about horror that lends itself to shorts like peanut butter does to jelly. I recently read Ray Bradbury’s The October Country and was struck by not only the prose and the genius, but by how each story so successfully clung to my psyche. I couldn’t shake them and I didn’t want to. Yes, novels can build a world, a cast of characters, an epic hero’s journey. Yet there is something indescribable that a short story brings. It is a sudden thrill. A delicious peek.
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As a published author, I’m often asked for advice. It wasn’t that long ago, I, too, had no idea how to break into the business of writing. One of my most common bits of help is to suggest short story writing. A novel, or full length non-fiction, can be a beast to begin with, so why not start a touch smaller? Practice the art of storytelling in a bite-sized form. That way, no matter what genre you write in, you can begin to submit to e-zines, anthologies, contests. Building a stable of short stories can help you gain experience so that when it’s time to write a novel, you’ve learned not only about creating a story, but about submissions, editing, feedback, and the inevitable rejection.
There has been speculation over the years that books would lose their footing. That bookstores and libraries would become extinct. I’m more than happy to report that’s not the case, and similarly, the short story will never, I believe, be winked out of existence either. There is something delightful about reading a story by an author and hungering for the next one. Or indulging in an anthology where you come to find your next favorite writer. Like short film, short stories are simply a gateway into the world you are seeking. By the time they have you pulled in, it’s too late.
Horror and suspense author Meg Hafdahl is the creator of numerous stories and books. Her fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Eve’s Requiem: Tales of Women, Mystery and Horror, and Eclectically Criminal. Her work has been produced for audio by The Wicked Library and The Lift, and she is the author of two popular short story collections, including Twisted Reveries: Thirteen Tales of the Macabre. Meg is also the author of the two novels Daughters of Darkness and Her Dark Inheritance, which was called “an intricate tale of betrayal, murder, and small town intrigue” by Horror Addicts and “every bit as page turning as any King novel” by RW Magazine. Meg, also the co-host of the podcast Horror Rewind and co-author of The Science of Monsters, The Science of Women in Horror, The Science of Stephen King, and upcoming The Science of Serial Killers, lives in the snowy bluffs of Minnesota.
Visit Meg on her Amazon page.
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