Monday, March 26, 2012
Guest blog: Benjamin Knox
Good Things Come in Small Packages
by Benjamin Knox
Short stories are where most authors begin. The starting point in the craft of weaving a tale. For the early author it is a standard goal.
However they have been heavily marginalised by publishing trends, which I find weird, as there are thousands of magazines out there (both print and online) that publish short fiction. But such magazines are out of the public eye. Gone are the days of Weird Tales and the such pulp magazines, where Asimov, Clark and even Lovecraft cut their teeth.
Many established and famous authors talk openly about their love of short fiction. Stephen King in his foreword to his collection Just After Dark talks about the massive amount of time that went by without writing a short and how much he loved doing them once he started up again.
Similarly the late great Richard Laymon wrote many short stories (such as the fantastically creepy Dreadful Tales) and also professed to love write short fiction, yet still acknowledging the lack of a medium for them.
I think people like short stories just fine. It is publishers, back in the day, that didn’t see the potential. Even with big names like Clive Barker making a career for himself with his eight volumes of short fiction Books of Blood.
Reading habits are changing and changing quickly. I don’t just mean with the advent and popularity of ereaders, I mean in what and how we choose to read. We are quite lucky in the fact that we have such a wide selection of work available to us, and the internet and ebooks are making that easier every day.
We’re spoiled for choice.
Be it vampire-erotica to the surreal and often disturbing depths of Bizarro, chances are that no matter what you’re into, someone is writing it and it’s available. Even filth-master extraordinaire Edward Lee has a respectable publisher and a cult fan base.
It seems, to me at least, that people are reading more frequently yet in shorter bursts. In London where I live, people read whilst commuting or on a lunch break. Fewer and fewer people are settling down at night for a good couple of hours to really sink their teeth into a story.
Hence shorter, faster paced work is on the rise.
I feel it might even lead to a rise in short story reading (something that has always supposedly had a relatively minor audience). There are anthologies and collections from authors people know and trust, but it is becoming more acceptable and common place to read a single short story. A bite sized piece of easily digestible fiction.
Joe R Lansdale is re-releasing his benchmark short stories individually online. The very stories that catapulted his career into action.
There is a wonderful challenge in this for writers as well. Short stories are often harder to write than longer work. Less time to develop characters, theme and plot. Therein lies the skill; creating something shorter that still has a lingering impact. After all, that is what an author wants, to have you thinking about a story or an idea long after you’ve finished.
A peculiar form of haunting.
The same seems to be happening with novels as well. Which always struck me as odd in the first place as there are many classics that are quite short. Look at Hemmingway, Hunter S Thompson, Roald Dahl and Joe R Lansdale, as well as the truly awesome Jack Ketchum (who often included a novella or long short to make up pages). In the 1970s and 1980s there were many popular series of novels (like the McBain’s 87th Presinct police procedurals) that clocked in around the lower limit of what is considered a novel: 45 000 words, sometimes less.
This doesn’t mean that the standard length of the novel is going anywhere. Not at all. As an avid reader and author I like to get a book I can really chew on. But I also like ideas, and some ideas are just fun to share, quickly and in a manner that does them justice. Not all stories lend themselves to novel length.
I also predict a rise in novellas as well.
I certainly hope so too, as at the moment those are primarily what I write. They are a length I find very comfortable (25 to 50k words) to work with. Big enough to have substance and complex ideas, yet small enough to keep things succinct.
Such stories are like candy for me. I love them. I love reading them and I love writing them. Sure I have my longer work, purebred beasts of novels, but I prefer the fun-size package that is short fiction.
If you need any proof, just look at flash fiction! It’s taken off like crazy and the good ones stick with you, leave you thinking. You’ll be just about to fall asleep or on your way to meet friends and suddenly it’ll pop in your head.
Short doesn’t mean bad, or less adept. It just means short.
Ideas are like fairies captured in a jar, to be carefully examined and then released. Each marvellous in its own way.
What is really important, the MOST important thing in fact, is that the story, indeed that the writing, is good.
After that, size does not matter.
Just make sure your content is smoking hot.
I believe this trend in reading habits will lead to a mutation of the television style format. You’ll get a serialised tale, short stories coming out regularly that are in the same setting or have the same characters. Much like TV you’ll be able to jump in and enjoy the story on its own, but you’ll have much deeper insight if you’ve read the previous entries.
A series of episodic adventures that lead on from one another; like watching House MD: A new case each week with the slow push of the season’s main plot.
After all even Charles Dickens’s work was originally released in serial format.
Anyway, that’s what I think. Whether it happens or not, only time will tell. I’m interested in it enough to throw my own hat into the ring. Until then you can read my other short stories (such as A Keeper of Secrets which is already available), read my web-comics, pick my brain etc at my website or blog.
Thanks for reading.
(Finally, to quote Tigger)
Ta-ta for now
A Keeper of Secrets: a short story
by Benjamin Knox
she’s waiting for you...
Amidst the clutter and gloom of the attic little Anna has the strange feeling that she is not alone...
A Dark Fairy-tale for grown-ups.
* * * *
Benjamin Knox wanted to be a super-villain when he was little. Instead he grew up to warp minds with his creepy fiction.