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What Ails the Short Story - Stephen King article (1 Viewer)

mwd

Senior Member
Good article. What he says is kind of sad, but very true. Part of the problem is that the more inbred the short story gets, the less people want to read it, which just makes things worse. At this point I'm not quite sure what, if anything, has the potential to actually revive short stories and get more people reading them again.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I dimly remember from my marketing classes that you're supposed to 'create a need' or 'fill a need' when you have a product to sell. Short stories being the product it would seem that the frantic pace of everyday life would make a short story a welcome read over a longer book.

If the short story can only be found in the floor-level magazines or anthologies nobody looks for, it sounds to me like short-story venues need a face lift.
 

Mr Sci Fi

Senior Member
I agree with King, in the aspect that the Short Story is dying because of the Bestsellers thrown in your face at the entrance.

We live in a society now where print is nearly dead, where a minority actually read an obscure book as opposed to a Bestseller. Those who only read a book because a friend recommended it, or because they read an ad for it in the latest edition of People, are far less likely to pick up a literary magazine than the avid reader -- And let's face it, there are very few avid readers these days.

Of course, this is just my opinion, as I know of very few readers outside of my writing colleagues.
 

mwd

Senior Member
If the short story can only be found in the floor-level magazines or anthologies nobody looks for, it sounds to me like short-story venues need a face lift.
What kind of face lift? Personally there are still plenty of short story magazines I enjoy reading. And I don't just read them to pick up market tips either. Sure, some stories aren't so hot, for many of the reasons King describes. But I'm not sure this is a problem with the short story venues, or if it's a problem with the kind of submissions they're receiving, or if it's just a problem with fiction in general (i.e., not all of it can be good, and not all of it can appeal to a particular reader, so at best you get a few stories that you love, a lot of stories that are OK, and a few you dislike).

I don't think it's a problem that can be solved just by changing venues, really. That seems too simple. I think Mr Sci Fi has a point when he says the audience is limited by the fact that a lot of people just don't go for anything but the bestsellers. Even if we could change the short story venues to appeal to these sorts of people, would we want to? I wouldn't, personally. I like my snobby highbrow short fiction.
 

Crow

Member
Ordinarily I agree with King on a lot of issues--his book On Writing is practically the Bible to me--but I don't sync with his assertion: "Current condition stable, but apt to deteriorate in the years ahead."

Mass market publications that include your typical bestsellers and James Patterson-esque doorstops are not well-suited for short story collections because book marketing is largely based on the cult of an author's personality. There's a reason why a Stephen King book features his name in gigantic lettering with the title perhaps hidden in a corner somewhere. King books sell. Patterson, Steele, etc. all sell. But it's a little hard to create a market drive around a bunch of unknown authors--even an eclectic group as King assuredly assembled for his short story collection.

So, short story collections aren't well-suited in the behemoth Wal-mart-sized McBooksellers all over the country. However, the internet provides the best medium for short stories because of two reasons, 1.) They're a fast read for the ever-eager clickers out there, and 2.) They're easy and cheap to post on blogs. No one's going to sit there and sift through a full-length novel online when they'd rather buy a book they can curl up with by the bed stand. But a short story, that's something a bored cubicle worker can fly through to pass the time, or something a housewife can do in between her soap opera.

It's only a matter of time before some decent writer figures out the system of writing short stories online and becomes a success. There's already a ton of non-fiction bloggers who've segued their online success into books, podcasts, and other careers. Fiction bloggers will have their moment someday.

It isn't that the short story as an art form is dead or unprofitable, it's just that it's in a period of adjustment and hasn't quite figured out its proper media outlet.
 

ClancyBoy

Senior Member
I believe the next 30-40 years will be explosive for literature. Partly because I believe in the mystical 88-year cycle, partly because there's no place to go really but up, and partly because of the internet.

Not sure when it will start, but I think it must be soon. Generation X is the most creative one to come along in a long time I believe, literarily speaking. When more of us start to push past 40 you'll start to see a lot of great stuff. I predict.


Why is King looking on magazine racks? I read TONS of stuff, and I never heard of any of those magazines.
 
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Mr Sci Fi

Senior Member
I believe the next 30-40 years will be explosive for literature. Partly because I believe in the mystical 88-year cycle, partly because there's no place to go really but up, and partly because of the internet.

Partly because Hollywood makes shit now and quality lies in a good book.
 

Rumrunner

Senior Member
I have a theory - mostly spawned from the film and tv industry, but I suspect at least partially applicable to this situation as well - that agents are the spawn of satan. I could be overly cynical, but think about this.... Agents who are paid as a percentage of the sale naturally want to get the most money for the sale that they can. Novels are easier to get published, and sell for more, both up-front and long-term. In order to earn a comparable amount off short stories, an agent will have to work an order of magnitude harder, shopping them around to multiple editors each, especially if they span multiple genres. Add in the costs and time associated with doing this, and it's much less appealing to the agent.

Therefore, I think a lot of agents are less interested in selling shorts, probably try less hard to do so, and encourage their clients to work with novels. While there are undoubtedly agents who truly care about the short story and do their best for it, there's a lot of simple money-grubbers out there too, who are going to follow the trail of red ink to the bottom line. Then, authors wind up being disillusioned with the difficulty of selling shorts, and either turn to novels or drop out entirely.

The same problem, I think, is at the heart of Hollywood's current crap output and soaring budgets. Even despite exhorbitant special effects costs, most of a film's budget in Hollywood today comes from the salaries paid to so-called "Above-The-Line" talent, the A-list stars, the director, the producer. It's in an agent's best interest to set up the most expensive "package" deal he can, since that's how he makes his own money. The result is that people get put in roles they aren't necessarily ideal for, salaries are grossly inflated, quality goes to crap, and it can all theoretically be justified on a balance sheet which corporate number crunchers rely on show how "it should have worked / been a good idea." The result - Agents have become the de facto powerbrokers in Hollywood and very rich, and we get crap films.

I wouldn't be surprised if there's quite a few literary agents out there who are, consciously or unconsciously, working towards the death of the short story for the same sort of financial motivations.

--Rumrunner
 

ClancyBoy

Senior Member
Partly because Hollywood makes shit now and quality lies in a good book.

Hollywood is full of cowards who aren't willing to take a chance on anything that isn't XXXtreme!

Actually, if you want to see some really creative stuff, you should check out what the Koreans are doing.
 

ClancyBoy

Senior Member
I have a theory - mostly spawned from the film and tv industry, but I suspect at least partially applicable to this situation as well - that agents are the spawn of satan. I could be overly cynical, but think about this.... Agents who are paid as a percentage of the sale naturally want to get the most money for the sale that they can.

This disease infects every aspect of our culture, not just media. I heard someone refer to it once as tickle-me-Elmo syndrome. That is, all companies are interested in is finding that one thing that will be the must-have Christmas gift or the summer blockbuster or the next Brittany Spears or the next Harry Potter.
Merely being profitable isn't good enough anymore. It has to be super duper fill-the-stadium-with-fans huge. That usually means pandering to the lowest common denominator, and that usually means producing crap.
 

Buddy Glass

Senior Member
I don't see what makes Steven King a particular authority on the state of American literature, but oh well. He's right about a couple of things, but if I remember correctly short stories were never up front with the best-sellers. Not then, not now. So his complaints are somewhat unnecessary.

The fact is that most good literature - and in this case short story collections - are not marketed in the same way as Harry Potter books or step-by-step guides to improving your sex life. They never have.
 

Crow

Member
Another thing I just thought of has to do with time investment. These days,I suppose more people would rather make the larger investment in reading a full-length novel instead of a short story.

Also, 60 years ago short stories were immensely popular especially in the pulp fiction magazines. Today, it seems TV shows, websites, and other multi-media devices have replaced short stories as a way to pass the time.

Of course, people will always flock to good writing. I still think it's only a matter of time before the right person or people come along and construct the short story in a way that can be enjoyed by everyone in this modern age.
 

Buddy Glass

Senior Member
Of course, people will always flock to good writing. I still think it's only a matter of time before the right person or people come along and construct the short story in a way that can be enjoyed by everyone in this modern age.
But that's just the problem. Short stories aren't for everyone. A lot of people don't 'get' them. In a sense it's a more artistic art form than the novel because it takes incredible skill to pen a truly good story. Have your average person read Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", Raymond Carver's "Night School" or Franz Kafka' "A Hunger Artist". These are all great stories, but they are not for everyone. Or rather, they are not understood or read by everyone. Not everyone understands what T.S. Eliot called the objective correlative.

I think you need to be more specific. "...construct the short story in a way that can be enjoyed by everyone in this modern age" is a load of vague crap. Like saying you think it's only a matter of time before a politician comes along and constructs society in a way that can be enjoyed by everyone.
 
B

bloodredsnows

This disease infects every aspect of our culture, not just media. I heard someone refer to it once as tickle-me-Elmo syndrome. That is, all companies are interested in is finding that one thing that will be the must-have Christmas gift or the summer blockbuster or the next Brittany Spears or the next Harry Potter.
Merely being profitable isn't good enough anymore. It has to be super duper fill-the-stadium-with-fans huge. That usually means pandering to the lowest common denominator, and that usually means producing crap.

Agreed. The sad part is that people who put great effort and thought into original work get screwed because they refuse to pander to that low denominator. Brings new meaning to no good deed goes unpunished.
 

Stewart

Senior Member
I don't see what makes Steven King a particular authority on the state of American literature
While he's not an "authority" per se I think that, having grown up in a time where the short story was prevalent (50s through 70s) and being inspired to write his own and seeing a majority of them published, that he may be allowed an opinion on the subject. Just because his actual prose rambles and is not all that great doesn't exclude him from being able to air his thoughts.
 

Buddy Glass

Senior Member
Who would you prefer? Oprah?

No, contrary to what you may think little boy, there are other authorities on the state of the American short story. Let me mention a few.

Richard Ford - perhaps one of the best living short story writers. At least two of his three collections - Women with Men and Rock Springs are superb and now considered modern classics.

John Updike - despite lots of garbage and the fact that his literary output is too abundant for his own good, he's written a lot of very good short stories. My personal favorite is "The Slump" in which he centers around a Kierkegaardian theme.

James Salter - one of his collections - its title eludes me - won the PEN/Faulkner award, I think, and another, Last Night and other stories, is his most recent work. His style is very similar to post-Cathedral Raymond Carver.

Alice Munro and Susan Minot have also written some of the best modern short stories.

So no, I don't think Oprah would be my second choice after the overrated Stephen King.
 
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