Monday, June 09, 2008

Short and to the Point

The short story seems almost a lost art these days. Anthologies of short stories don't tend to sell as well as novels. They may be a little more popular in the literary section of the bookstore, but they aren't well represented on the genre shelves. Fiction magazines, once the mainstay of publishing, have almost gone the way of all flesh, leaving just a few straggling dinosaur digests, holdovers from a different age. But I love short stories.
There's just something about being able to sit down and read an entire story in less than an hour and there's also a lot to be said for the form itself. Short story ideas are totally different from novel ideas. They have to be concise and forceful, and they have to get a lot of information into a small space without making it look crowded. I often laugh at my writer friends who say their short stories keep turning into novels. I think that's kind of like saying your Mini Cooper turned into a Semi. Doesn't work that way. You just didn't have a short story idea to begin with.
I have gone on record as saying that I think the short story is the natural form for sword & sorcery. The intensity that good examples of the genre demand can't really be sustained for 300 pages. I've seen a very few S&S novels that almost work, and none of them completely. Robert E. Howard only wrote on novel about Conan and that one was really a bunch of short episodes, mostly cannibalized from earlier stories, welded together. Karl Edward Wagner probably comes closest with a couple of his Kane novels.
Over the weekend I read a bunch of short stories, mostly by Manly Wade Wellman from the Carcosa collection, Worse Things Waiting. Wellman is a writer I have only recently begun to appreciate and I certainly was impressed and amazed with the scope of the ideas and approaches he brings to short horror fiction. Not just ghosts and vampires and the usual tropes, but many original, strange, and disturbing ideas. Amazing stuff.
I also read another of his Kardios sword & sorcery tales, which are nothing like those written by any other S&S author, but yet still fit firmly into the genre. Someone seriously needs to put together a collection of these. It's funny, but I seem to be in a real discovery period, reading some of the older authors, many of whom I've had a passing knowledge but never read seriously. It's not nostalgia, since I didn't read these guys when I was a kid, but writers like Wellman, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, and Clark Ashton Smith seem to have more to offer than a lot of the more recent fantasy and horror writers. Perhaps it's just that they come from the Weird Tales school of fiction, but I think a lot of it has to do with the craft of the old fashion short story. Beginning, middle, and end, just like the English teachers used to tell us. Strong characters. Strong plots. Real stories.


Gabriele C. said...

Well, my plotbunnies come as novels, that's for sure. :) Even my S&S character Kormac Halvdanson doesn't want to be pressed into short stories, which is a pity because there are a few places where I could sell those. But his adventures have become too complex.

Bad characters. Bad. No cookies.

Blue Tyson said...

Kardios? That is one I haven't seen, what sort of stories are those?