Sunday, January 8, 2012

What's wrong with short stories?

After looking at various reviews of my free short stories, "Blink" and "Last Dance of a Black Widow" one of the most common complaints I found is... "I expected more" or "I was hoping for more" or "This would have made a good book but it was too short."  Or something similar.  People simply wanted more.  They enjoyed the story but needed to have more of it.  The killer is, these people then give me three out of five stars, not because they didn't enjoy what they read, but because they felt cheated.  Now, readers can't feel cheated monetarily because these stories are free, though I guess they can feel cheated time-wise because they spent ten minutes reading something that they thought never really ended... but that's a different issue altogether.

With "Blink", which is a sci-fi/horror story, people want to know what happens after Dr. Brian Mallory makes his hideous discovery.

With "Last Dance", a character sketch, people really want to know about Abbey Whistler's life before she died (the 3,000 word short story describes the time between actual death and when death comes for her).

Truth is, if I ever become a "professional writer" where I can spend less time at my real job and more time writing, I would be happy to write novels based on these two stories.  But the fact remains: they stand strong on their own as simple short stories.  And I did my job well if I have piqued readers interest enough that they are wondering about the stories after they have finished them.

When thinking about this topic, about short stories that really don't seem to have an adequate ending, my mind always travels back to Stephen King's "The Mangler" from Nightshift.  Talk about a story that has no real ending.  The laundry machine, which has killed half a dozen people, suddenly breaks free of it's moorings after  an exorcism, then ends abruptly.  What about "The Mist", a novella from Skeleton Crew.  The movie adaptation had a definitive ending, although an awful one, but the book offered nor real ending whatsoever.  In both cases, the reader is left dangling.  And you know what?  It's okay.

Now, part of me thinks that King meant for The Mist to be a full-length novel but just couldn't find a way to prolong and end it, giving us a very strange ending, but "The Mangler"... well, it was what it was, and that is okay.  Because it was entertaining.  Do I want to know, or need to know, what happens afterwards to have enjoyed what I read?  No.  Would it have been nice to know more?  Who knows.  Maybe more story would have turned an enjoyable short story into a mess of a novel or novella.  Reading should be about the trip, not the destination (though a bad ending can ruin the experience).  But again, I digress.

Both "Blink" and "Last Dance of a Black Widow" succeeded at being what I wanted them to be.  Short little jaunts that could be enjoyed in ten or fifteen minutes.  Could they have been expanded?  Sure.  Hell,  most stories, whether they be 100 word flash fiction or 900 page novels, can be expanded on.  But in the end, the reader has to understand that what an author releases is usually released in that form for a reason.  I am not ready to delve into Abbey Whistler's past yet, and I am not ready to explore the future of a world where sentient tongue jewelry exists.  But I wanted to tell these particular stories because I hoped that they would entertain and be a little thought provoking.  And, as far as I can tell, I succeeded.

So that is my story and I'm sticking to it.  You want to know more about these two particular stories?  I'll be happy to tell them one day when I have the time.  As for now, just know that I told the stories I wanted to and that I'm happy with the results.


  1. Agreed; their seems to be an odd view amongst some readers that short stories are just truncated novels, and not a seperate form of writing with their own reason to exist. I don't get it (hence an 'In Defense of Short Stories' series on my own blog). Do peole read The Lottery and think it would be better with a ton of backstory & subplots??

  2. Just got another review on Blink... Basically, good writing style, suitably talented, too short. Two stars. Really?

  3. Hi Bradley,
    Thought I'd say howdy. My wife is a dentist, and I write Horror and scifi. I'm heading over to download your shorts. I hear all the time that people want me to turn my short stories into novels. Funny to see others hearing the same things. I'll review when I finish.

  4. I never liked reading or writing short stories until I found the style that suited me. I was guilty of putting them in the "mini-novel" category. Then I realized that they can be formed like jokes: setup > punchline. After that, I appreciated them a lot more. I think they should be considered more akin to poems than novels.