Monday, June 11, 2012

The Power of Short Stories


I saw the movie Paycheck some 6 year ago and loved it. The basic premise and the way the story moved forward from one clue to another. While doing some net surfing today, I realized that Philip K Dick was a pretty famous and celebrated author and about 10 of his stories (not novels, just short stories) had been converted into Hollywood movies. One look at the list of movie and I was impressed. Minority Report and Paycheck were very much in this list and I was bowled over by the premise and plot of both these movie.


Well, I jus couldn't wait. I searched the internet and found both the short stories - Paycheck and Minority Report. So I am reading them now. It's amazing. How a complex and intriguing tale was written in the form of a 30 page short story.


Over the past year, I have become more of a short story reader (while I still read the 2-3 novels every month) and more I read, the more I realize that the authors of those times were wonderful creatures who fit in a story in a few pages. The trend now a days is to write long novels and publish them and back it up with multi-million marketing blitzkrieg to earn millions.


I have read the short stories by Canon Doyle (the entire series of 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories), the Feluda series and other short stories by Satyajit Ray. I remember reading magazines like Chandamama and Nandan in my childhood which had a lot of short stories. I have always enjoyed short stories but as I grew up, reading moved from short stories to novels. 


I guess the age of the short stories was first over shadowed by the short novels / novellas / longer short stories spanning about 80-100 pages ... short novels which might interest the teens and people and which were commercially sale'able independently; which was great and profitable for the publisher as well as the author). Slowly the interest in novellas increased and as people began to spend on 'single stories', novellas gave way to novels and the stories got longer. Commercialization meant that publishers want the authors to write longer novels so that they can charge a higher fee from the reader for the same story.


Of course, the market maturity also counts. I see a lot of 200-300 page novels getting published in India which cost in the range 100 to 200 ... but most of the American novels are in the range of 400 - 700 pages and cost 250 to 600 ... The spending-ability as well as spending-desire of the customer is also guiding the economics of book publishing ... The customer who is buying an English novel at 500 bucks is not readily willing to spend 300 on an Indian one. Everyone wants value for their monies and books are no different.  


As Indian reader begins to spend more and more on Indian authors, the publishers will also push their authors to write thicker novels which will cost more meaning more money for the publishers and the author.


But wouldn't this also affect Quality ... OF COURSE IT WILL...


I read the first 4 Harry Potter novels way back in Jan 2002 ... loved them ... when the 5th one came; it was thicker than the earlier ones. It was good. The 6th one thicker than the 5th one and it was not that great (my personal opinion) and the last one ... I did not like it at all. It was as if the author was writing based on guidelines and deadlines received from the publisher rather than being guided by own thoughts and ideas.


I noticed something similar in a novel by one of my fav authors - Matthew Reilly. The first 2 books of his Jack West Jr. series were simply awesome and amazing (just like his other works) ... the third book felt like a disaster. It felt like being pushed to complete a wonderful dinner in 10 minutes flat. You know the stuff is good but you just can't enjoy. The story seemed too cramped up and felt like he was forced to write it. He wasn't the usual self in that book.


So definitely the quality is getting impacted


But coming back to short stories ... where do we find short stories NOW? 

Who is writing amazing short stories around these days? 

All I find is short stories written several decades ago.


Is the power of short stories lost in the world of commercial literature??? 



  1. People often also don;t read short stories because many a times they don't have the conventional beginning, middle and end. Most often, they end ambiguously as well which is not very easy to accept for hard core fans of the happy ending.

  2. @Aakanksha Singh

    True. Authors take a lot of freedom in Short stories ... they have a story to tell and they ignore everything else like character development, scenic descriptions, even character descriptions are concise.

    Longer stories (novella and novel versions) have enough space for describing things at length ... and have their own charm.

  3. Yes, but I still love short stories for their brevity and the fact that they provide fleeting moments of happiness, sadness and whatever else the writer wants to convey. I like this sense of brevity as it is magnified and yet also so brief that you need to cherish that moment forever. Much like Keats' Nightingale Ode. Am i making much sense? Sorry for rambling!!!

  4. Your ramblings echo my own thoughts to some extent. Even I enjoy reading the shorts and since last year, I have been steadily increasing my short story reading count.

    I still read about 2-3 novels of varying lengths every month and have anywhere from 1- to 20 short stories across different series / authors / genres.