Why Short Stories Are Great... For Readers And For Writers!
Updated: Apr 19
A few years ago I hadn’t written anything for ages. More accurately, I’d started writing lots of things, each time convinced that this was going to be it, my big bestselling masterpiece… but then I got fed up with the idea, unable or unwilling to carve out enough time alongside my accounting job to devote to finishing the project. I became disillusioned and down about what felt like constant failure, resigning myself to giving up the writing dream.
Then I read a short story collection by Jeremy Dyson, specifically The Cranes That Build The Cranes, and I loved it. As well as being a fantastic source of inspiration, it helped me realise that many of my ideas weren’t full-length novels at all, but were instead much more suited to the short form. I found that I could write them in one or two solid, focused weekend sessions, quickly producing fully-formed pieces I was really proud of. The ideas that didn’t work out too well didn’t matter because they hadn’t used up too much time, and had been good practice, while those I was happiest with evolved into a collection of dark stories, which ultimately became the first volume of my Disturbing Works.
Given that a lot of people do much of their reading on the commute to and from work, the short story format is absolutely perfect for a quick, intense burst of fiction, and I think is particularly well suited to the psychological horror genre. I’ve read some truly excellent short stories in the last few years. My favourite, I think, is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream – not only for its incredible title, but for its truly unique and harrowing dystopian vision of an AI-controlled future (he settled out of court when The Terminator ripped off his idea). I’ve also enjoyed Who Goes There? by John W Campbell, which went on to be adapted into the movie The Thing, as well as a number of other ingenious and sinister collections, including other works by Jeremy Dyson.
So, if you’re a reader looking for their next fix, I would encourage you to have a crack at reading some short story collections. (If you’re interested in checking out mine, you can find the first volume here and the second one here – I’ve included a short excerpt below to see if it’s your cup of tea.)
If you’re a writer – particularly if, like I was, you’re struggling to find time and inspiration – then why not consider writing a short story this weekend? It will definitely revitalise your creative energies, and you might find you were a short fiction specialist all along!
Until next time,
Excerpt from Jon Richter’s Disturbing Works (Volume One):
Sasha looked up at the sky, marvelling at how the cloudless expanse could shift so gradually from one shade of blue to another. Colours that probably all had different names (her vocabulary offered up words like cyan, azure, cerulean) blended seamlessly, as though mixed on an artist’s palette. If she flicked her head from one side to the other, she could recognise two distinct hues, yet if she scanned slowly from left to right she could not discern the change. An imperceptible alteration. Like how humans grow old.
She knew she should not be doing this, that this behaviour served no logical purpose. But she also knew that it would be a little while before Susie emerged, and that no-one was watching her; the other parents were staring through the fence, or chatting to each other. Most were women. One was looking up towards the sky too, and Sasha wondered if she was also a mechanoid, if the fascination with the sky was some quirk of their programming.
But no. It was very clear that the woman was not like her. She had long, striking blonde hair; not like Sasha’s smooth, hairless cranium. She had bright, beautiful eyes the colour of coffee; not like Sasha’s unblinking black orbs. She had a lithe, supple body, full of twists and turns and movement and glorious imperfection; not like Sasha’s cold, hard frame.
Just for a moment she had the crazy idea that they were all mechs, that every one of these smiling mothers and impatient-looking fathers was actually synthetic, a more advanced model than her but ultimately the same; collecting someone else’s children while their owners were busy at work, or lounging beside a pool.
For a moment she could see it, rows of gleaming skulls turned expectantly towards the school buildings, waiting for the children to emerge, to fulfil their purpose… and then Susie appeared, dispelling the grim vision.
Sasha lifted a plastic hand, and waved.