It’s embarrassing for me to admit this, but I make excuses not to read all the time. I tell myself that I’m too busy; that I need to devote more time to my writing; that I’m not seeing friends enough—the list goes on. Worse still, I make these excuses solely to myself so I can feel better about ignoring that unread novel I go through my day. It’s a habit that is only hurting my writing and my creativity, because any writer worth their salt will tell you that you can only hope to produce quality prose if you read voraciously. Without a wide breadth of reading experiences to draw from, it’s impossible to craft a story that will make sense among other works of fiction.
While I try my best to read novels at the same rate that I did in college, it’s an admittedly uphill battle. That’s why I decided to read more short fiction not too long ago. I only recently realized the obvious power of short fiction, whose better authors are able to squeeze more beauty, poignancy, and depth in a few pages than many writers can do over the entire span of their career. The sheer talent of short story writers gives me hope (and constant material) in my own writing endeavors, and it’s something that I can’t recommend highly enough to other writers.
If I choose my authors correctly, it’s possible that I can finish a story in a single sitting that will stick with me for weeks to come. I spend time wondering how an author can make such hard decisions when they set out to write a short story, like how to determine the appropriate amount of plot detail or the right balance between character development and descriptive dialogue. When I write I struggle to contain entire subplots within the larger framework of my main story; I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone to compress an entire story into a few thousand words.
Talents authors accomplish these feats all the time, and yet their work is severely underserved and unnoticed in the general fiction community. Think about it: who do you know that prefers a good book of short stories to an old-fashioned novel? It wasn’t until I realized the convenience of reading short fiction that I took the time to study and appreciate the art. Sure, I had studied short stories in college, but I had never considered them outside an academic setting. But short fiction authors are well worth your time.
For example, I just finished a book of short stories by the Native American writer Sherman Alexie, and I learned more by reading his funny and tragic short stories than I ever did with any book I’ve read over the past year. I would never have known about him if I hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of contemporary American short stories writers, but I’m so thankful that I did. My gratitude will show through in my fiction.
In short (hah), short stories do have inestimable merit for writers. For my part, I’ve learned so much about making my prose leaner, about developing my characters more thoroughly, and about creating a unique atmosphere from the short stories I’ve read. Do yourself a favor a check out a book of short fiction from an acclaimed author, sit down, and take the time to ingest the compact stories. You’ll be glad you did.
This is a guest post by Kristie Lewis from construction management degree. You can reach her at: Kristie.Lewis81 @ gmail. Com.