Sunday, 30 January 2022

Whatever Happened to the Short Story?

Many people email me to ask about short story markets.

Where are they? And where have they all gone?

The market for magazine length (2000 to 5000 words) short stories has dwindled almost to vanishing point in the last fifty years.

Nowadays, unless you're already famous, you can't get short stories published at all it seems.

There's the New Yorker, a few SciFi monthlies - and the odd woman's magazine - where the competition is savagely fierce, and that's about it.

Basically, the short story market has crashed. The advent of our high speed, high tech world has left the short story on the platform, waving at the departing train of progress.

The short story has been replaced by newer markets like TV, movies, computer games and true life (ie reality) based magazine 'confessions.' All very sad. But is it?

Instead of bemoaning the death of the short story, writers need to adjust their worldview and move with the times.

Many writers are reluctant to attack the new markets. They regard TV, film and computer games as somehow beyond, or perhaps beneath them. Consequently, contrary to popular belief, these markets are remarkably, still crying out for writers.

Robyn and I are constantly amazed by TV, movie producers and computer game developers who are always complaining at seminars that they can't find enough writers!

It seems absurd when Robyn and I know literally thousands who are desperate for paid work - and yet won't move outside of their comfort zones of novels and their (unpublishable) short stories.

Yes, there is still much demand for novels, if only because a good one can make millions. But the competition is ruthless. Your manuscripts have to brilliant AND flawless before you can get a look in to the novel market. It's a demanding genre because many writers have little inkling of just how good their novels need to be before they even think of sending them out...

Yes, writing for the screen is hard work too. Work being the active word. Writing you can expect to get paid for, alas, is work - and should be approached with that ethic. Even fiction.

Especially fiction.

Many new writers have this romantic idea that you can write fiction in your own space and time, send it out and it will be picked up as is.

Uh-uh. Those days are over.

Fiction is a business. Collaboration is the order of the day.

Rewriting, reworking and brutal editing are the norm - not just in TV and film, but also in novel writing - where the average bestseller is RE-written up to twenty or thirty times before it is deemed worthy of release to the public.

Fiction is no longer the author's sole domain. It is now often a committee led process. It has to be - to appeal to the broadest audience. 'Little things' like logic, structure, character motivation and believability have become so much more important.

One of the main reasons I put together "The Art of Story" is because, working in this industry, I'd noticed this trend coming.

That there is a right way to construct a story. It is no longer just an art. It is a science too. And the principles of creating suitable story beats, achieving adequate emotional involvement and exploiting the reader's willing suspension of disbelief can not only be quantified but also repeated and most importantly, can be taught.

As you progress through your writing career, you'll find that people in the fiction business - whether concerned with novel writing, screenplays or even short stories - actually know instinctively what works and what doesn't. They have to - it's how they stay ahead of the game. It's also, unfortunately, why so many wannabe writers end up in the slush pile.

They simply don't understand that there are age old conventions and new, highly sophisticated techniques that can elevate a story from average to outstanding, simply by understanding and using the various elements of story.

You can literally design good fiction that almost writes itself, once you understand specifics like empathy, logical scene structure and the classic templates for story beats.

I could go on explaining the specifics for hours. 

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell