May 18, 2011

Short Story Renaissance

As I’m sure you’re all universally aware, the short story format has been around for a very long time.  I won’t pontificate about its history as that would be a bit long-winded, so I’ll stick with the short version (too late), but the reason I’m writing this post is because I’ve been wondering with the growing use of digital media whether  or not we’re in the midst of a short story renaissance.

For a good portion of the 20th century, short stories of varying lengths and degrees were submitted by writers to newspapers, magazines and other periodicals while editors reviewed and determined which ones would be accepted for publication.  We’ve all heard about and in some cases read old pulp fiction magazines from the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s etc. filled with short stories catering to hard-boiled, crime, adventure, sci-fi, romance and other genres and these magazines have also entered the pop culture lexicon, thanks to their own muster and also with a little help from Quentin Tarantino.

The beginning of the 21st century though has seen a decline in the number of print publications available for short stories due to financial reasons in large part and although many are still around like Asimov’s Science Fiction or the higher-brow New Yorker, the field has been narrowing for some time.  Interestingly enough, as print magazines for short stories close their doors, we’ve seen the growing emergence of online ezines, webzines, etc. with many maintaining the same or similar submission rules as their predecessors, some offering paid rates, others not so much.

Another arena is also now emerging for short stories in the form of online commerce ecosystems like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks or Smashwords.  After doing some research, I was heartened to find a growing number of writers who are publishing short stories or collections of stories on devices like Kindle or Nook starting for a mere 99 cents a pop.  I find this exciting and would venture a guess that this could be a real boon for the short story format’s future.   Obviously, things are far from certain, but it’s great to see a medium coming into play where one can write not just a novel, but something shorter like a novella or even flash fiction and make it available for those interested.

Yes, it does open the floodgates and create a potential slush pile for consumers, but to take the other side of the argument for a moment, this can also lead to more choices, good or bad, and on the positive side, it puts the writers in charge like never before and opens up potentially new avenues for storytelling experimentation as well.  Okay, okay, I promised I wouldn’t pontificate and all, but I guess sometimes I just can’t help myself (slide soapbox back under the bed).

Either way, my hope is that regardless of the format, we get the chance to read more entertaining short stories and if we’re able to do that then in the end that’s a win, regardless of where they came from.

Do you believe we’re in the midst of a short story renaissance?  What are your thoughts on the subject?