Sunday, 3 July 2011

In Defence Of Short Stories #8: Tim C. Taylor

Tim C. Taylor is all over the short story scene at the moment: publishing his own stories such as No More Than Human, which I've mentioned here before; setting up Greyhart Press (which publishes some great sci-fi and horror short stories); and working with people such as Neil Gaiman on books like Fables From The Fountain.

Let's see what such a chap has to say about short stories shall we? 
Product Details

Take it away Tim...

There's never been a better time to explore the universe of short stories, novelettes and novellas.

Here's a short story for you now:

A man walks into a Costa Coffee and orders a cappuccino grande for £1.65…

Okay, not much of a story yet, but we'll come back to this later.

Slip back a century or so, and a fair chunk of literature was first published in short form within popular periodicals, for example the Sherlock Holmes stories and many of Dickens' novels were initially serialised. Since then, short fiction has had a bad time, until now. Sure, there have been pockets of vitality, such as the American pulp magazines of the 30s and 40s, but short fiction has been fighting a rearguard action for a century, finally beaten back to the last redoubts of niche publishers and for-the-love webzines.

This blog post, and the Scattershot Writing website, is part of that defence. Except we are no longer manning the walls, but have sallied forth and are beginning to reclaim ground lost to the novel.

There's never been a better time to explore the universe of short stories, novelettes and novellas.
A man walks into a Costa Coffee and orders a cappuccino grande for £1.65, a mozzarella, tomato and basil Panini for £3.95… 







Perhaps we'd better pause for a working definition, taken from the SF Writers of America. A short story is up to 7,500 words; then we have novelettes up to 17,500 words. Novellas take us to 40,000 when we pass on to the novel.

Never heard of a novelette before? Only dimly aware of novellas? Well, better get used to them as you'll hear a lot more of them more over the coming years.

Of course, there's more to the definition of short fiction than word count. Short stories tell a story: something happens, characters are transformed, readers are transported to other worlds and experience them through other people's perspective.

Writing short fiction requires great discipline and forces hard choices. Authors often limit the attention on one aspect of the story in order to concentrate on another. For example, secondary characters might be given a cursory treatment because the author concentrates the focus of the story on the main character. Short story authors talk of words like an austerity government might talk of dollars: there is a limited supply and each dollar spent must justify its expense. The shorter the story, the harsher the fiscal discipline.

Crafting short fiction well is hard. Successful novelists talk of how much easier novel writing is because they have much more space to write whatever interests them.

Writing a 130,000 word fantasy novel and love the city setting you've built? Why not add another 3,000 words to describe more of your city? Now you can get in that detail you worked out about the Guild of Sewer Sweepers. 'Three thousand words?' says your agent. 'Heck, add another five thousand about your city and maybe we'll get compared to China Mieville.'

If a 130,000 word novel is like a bottomless cup of Americano, experiencing a good short story is like an espresso: not merely a shorter and more intense experience but something palpably different.

Which reminds me; we were writing a short story about coffee earlier…
A man walks into a Costa Coffee and orders a cappuccino grande for £1.65, a mozzarella, tomato and basil Panini for £3.95, whips out his Kindle and browses his favourite authors online before buying a cracking 7,000 word short story for 70p. Half an hour later, the man has eaten, drunk and read his fill. Which of the three do you think he will still think about tomorrow? Which was the cheapest? 
Well, that man was me this morning and the Costa Coffee outlet was on Silver Street, Bedford. The only fabrication was that the short on the Kindle hasn't been published yet (I can make up details like that because this is a story, though I never claimed it was an exciting one!)

My bad short story points to why good short fiction is fighting back. Anthologies and periodicals never quite went away but with eReaders and iPads, and similar technological paraphernalia, as a reader you can bring your library of short fiction with you, organised by category and author. You can even add the authors you like where and whenever you want and at a bargain price. At long last, short stories, novelettes, and novellas can be produced and consumed on a level playing field with novels. And that is why I say:

There's never been a better time to explore the universe of short stories, novelettes and novellas.

7 comments:

timctaylor said...

Hi, I think I ought to point out that I didn't work directly with Neil Gaiman, only in producing an e-book that contained a story written by him. Maybe next time, eh?
Thanks for giving me a guest spot, Tim

James Everington said...

Well that's closer to working with a Gaiman than most of us will get...!

Alain Gomez said...

I think the potential is there for the short story. The real question is: how to market?

All the marketing stuff still favors the novel these days. There's a short story audience out there, one just has to find a way to reach it.

timctaylor said...

>There's a short story audience out there, one just has to find a way to reach it.

I'm certain you're right, Alain. Part of the problem is that many in that audience don't yet realize they are a part of it.

Nigel Edwards said...

Seems to me that short stories have long been scoffed at by the movers and shakers of the (conventional) publishing world, particularly short fiction from unknowns. I think it's quite brilliant that people like Tim are entering the arena and pushing the format. Now we have the technological revolution of portable media like Kindle, and where prices for shorties are so keen, I look forward to seeing an explosion of interest (though, as a short story author myself, I suppose I'm biased!)

Iain said...

Great post, particularly on the discipline and hard choices of short fiction.

Becca said...

I, for one, love to read a really good short story. Find me @gbeckyjean on twitter!