I met Suzanne Church at Clarion 2005, where for 6 weeks we shared the ground floor rooms of the university dormitory with three other writers. We’ve remained friends over the years, enjoying our fellow Clarion graduate’s many and varied successes. Today I’m happy to be joined by Suzanne as she talks about short fiction.
Suzanne Church juggles her time between throwing her characters to the lions and chillin’ like a villain with her two sons. She writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror because she enjoys them all and hates to play favorites. Her award-winning fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Cicada, and On Spec, and in several anthologies including Urban Green Man and When the Hero Comes Home 2. Her collection of short fiction, ELEMENTS is published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.
Short stories are odd fish in the ocean of fiction. Even though they’re perceived by land lubbers as guppies, they’re actually more like sharks. If you’re wondering why authors write short fiction or why readers search out these stories, then follow the shark.
After all, isn’t it wiser to follow a shark than swim in front of one?
Five Reasons Authors Write Short Fiction
1. To Improve Your Craft
Writing, like anything, improves with practice. Short stories take less time to complete than novels, so the more of them you write, the more you’ll practice beginnings, middles, and endings. Mastering beginnings will get you noticed in the slush pile and mastering endings will leave stronger impressions with readers.
2. To Build Your Brand – Quantity
Novels take a long time to write, edit, and publish. During that time, your readers will seek more of your work. If two or three of your short stories pop up in magazines, anthologies, and online, your readers will be satiated while awaiting your next novel masterpiece.
3. To Build Your Brand – Quality
Since each short story tends to explore one theme, style, or concept, having multiple short stories in print will expose your readers to a variety of your writing talents. You might capture the attention of horror readers who are gripped by your suspense and tension in one story and fantasy readers by your vivid descriptions of setting and character in another.
4. Great Movie Options
How many times have you seen a movie based on a book and been disappointed at the interpretation? Probably because they cut out huge chunks of the story or didn’t go deep enough into the characters’ arcs. Short fiction — novellas in particular — has historically been adapted into great movies. Three out of the four novellas in Stephen King’s Different Seasons have been successfully adapted into movies.
5. The Bottom Line
Publishing is a business and publishers are in it to make money. The more “unknown” an author, the less likely a publisher is to gamble on you. When you’re starting out, try to write stories under 4,000 words. The less space your story takes up in a magazine or anthology, the less of a risk the publisher will feel they’re taking by picking your story out of the slush.
Five Reasons Readers Seek Short Fiction
1. The Perfect Commute Length
Many people read during their commute to work. In larger cities the commute might last 45 minutes to an hour each way. That’s the amount of time it takes to read a short story. And if you’re low on reading material and can’t face another minute avoiding eye contact with the strangers on the train, you can quickly purchase a low-price e-book short story and download it to your phone/tablet. Your budget will thank you when the size of the file won’t chew up your cell plan’s entire data limit.
Podcast sites are great places for readers to find short fiction. Escape Pod, The Drabblecast, Clarkesworld, and Pseudopod are all speculative fiction podcast markets. The great thing about podcasts of short fiction is that they’re the perfect “task-length”. You can listen to a complete short story podcast in the time it takes to wash the dishes, pull a few weeds from the garden, workout at the gym, or walk the dog.
3. Exploring a Theme
Anthologies often explore a theme. For instance, Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper edited by Nancy Kilpatrick contains stories where death is a character and Urban Green Man edited by Janice Blaine and Adria Laycraft explores the mythical Green Man’s presence in urban settings.
4. The Multi-Flavour Joy
Every reader has a finite amount of dedicated reading time. Reading short fiction magazines or anthologies provides a reader with the opportunity to try out new authors without committing too much time to the task. Plus, it’s cheaper to try 20+ new authors in one anthology than it is to buy 20 novels. (Ultimately, we authors want to hook you into ALSO buying those 20 novels.)
Magazines are convenient. You subscribe to one and then each issue shows up on a regular basis in your mailbox/email box. When the subscription nears the end, the publisher sends you a reminder to order again. The issues fit conveniently in your purse/pocket/tablet. Sometimes magazines are even lying conveniently on a table when you find yourself waiting in an office for an appointment.
So if you’re not sure whether to write short fiction, here’s a nudge to WRITE SOME! And if you haven’t read short fiction in a while, here’s another nudge to BUY SOME! You’ll feel more like a shark and less like a guppy.
Enjoy the power, but use it responsibly.