The Long And Short Of It

Walk into a book store and you are sure to find a heap of novels lined up meticulously. But how many are anthologies compared to the full length novels? Hardly a few!

I really can’t say what I like reading more – short stories or a full length novel. Though both have equal, if not less, rewards, they suffer their downfalls too.


My love for short stories began (and somewhat ended) during the school days, where in our “Gul Mohar Reader” had simple short stories that, at least I, used to end up reading even before school started for the particular term.  Stories by O.HenryRoald DahlErnest HemingwayGraham Greene, R. K. NarayanMark TwainLeo Tolstoy,Issac AsimovRuskin Bond, and so many other authors always interested me.
 But that affair lasted a short while. Once out of school, it got somewhat difficult to  track a good collection of short stories. Well, I must confess, I really did not try as hard, due to increasing academic pressures. But whenever I could, I would ask around for anthologies rather than novels.
It’s just that short stories are much easier to interpret, digest, and ponder upon. And the beauty lies in the fact that they could be read easily in one sitting. The restless soul that I am, I tend to get a little impatient reading a really long novel. I jump to a lot of conclusions before reaching the climax. Which in a way is good if the novel is exciting. But it just breaks my heart to see shoddy endings that leave me disappointed.

Also, short stories can be read (and re-read) anytime – while traveling to work, (sometimes at work), while enjoying a relaxed afternoon at home in a comfortable bean-bag, or any week night when sweet slumber deserts you.
Another thing about short stories is that you can pick up any story that you wish to read, without having to worry about the sequence. (Oh, but my OCD to follow a sequence is something I can’t help.)

There is a certain connectivity that is established in the very first paragrah usually, (if it is a well written short story) that takes you through the entire life of the character within those few pages. It’s just that the conectivity has to be established. If it clicks, you know you’re going to like it.

Let me not be completely biased. We cannot rule out the fact that in some anthologies not all stories capture your heart. Some do leave you disappointed. But the pain is bearable, as against spending time and getting involved with a lengthy novel only to be disappointed towards the climax. The effort is futile.

Coming to the writing styles, I must say, both are equally hard.
A well defined beginning, a progressive plot and a convincing climax make up for a well structured story. Be it a short one or a mighty novel.

Where a novel gives you the freedom to elaborate and dive in to the depths of a scene and describe even the sharpness of a harmless pin, a short story needs to deliver the same feeling in a few crisp sentences (or words). Come to think of it, short story writing is more of a challenge. It has the constraints of time and space and words and characters. In those few pages, you have to engage the reader so much that (s)he understands the plot, relates and connects with the characters, and doesn’t lose interest till the last word. That’s when a short story is truly acknowledged.
A novel gives the writer the levy of spinning a beautiful and lavish yarn that the reader is comfortable reading for a few pages before proceeding to the next scene.

Loosely structured sentences, clumsy dialogues, weak descriptions not only repulse the reader but also the publisher. Which brings me to one of the very important points – finding a publisher.
No doubt you can self-publish your work. But it would not gain as much visibility in the market. Social networking sites might help you to a certain extent. But that’s all. Promotions on a few blogging sites, sharing it with friends, family and acquaintances and maybe a few random stumblers is all you’d be able to gather. If you do look at the commercial aspect, finding a good publisher would become one of the priorities.

No doubt, India still has a long way to go when it comes to publishing a short story collection or an anthology. For some reason, publishers prefer full length novels over short stories.
It is only recently that new publishers like Grey Oaks Publications are coming out with continuous series of anthologies, giving budding writers a fair chance. Bigger and renowned players likePenguin, Rupa, Cedar, etc. have opened up more with bigger brands organizing short story competitions that publish deserving stories. Recent offerings that I’ve really appreciated include Urban ShotsDown The RoadSome Of The Whole, etc.

Reading the works of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and other seasoned authors raise your expectations, no doubt, with the kind of presentation, plot and ideation they offered. Their style is what set them apart. And looking for such gratification today, I confess, is a bit difficult. It is a task. A tough one. Budding authors most give it an honest try, and we readers must appreciate the efforts.

Now, talking about full length novels, they aren’t all that easy either. Definitely more time consuming and involving. The plot needs to be reasonable enough to keep the reader hooked till the last page. A couple of main characters with a few minor characters; a main plot with sub-plots around it; ample amount of research; immense effort and patience; all sum up the process of a decent full length novel writing.
Also, length and quality are not synonyms. Quite a few times, an author, in the zeal to increase the word count ends up sacrificing the structure and quality of the plot.

Though getting a publisher is comparatively easy; and signing off as an author of a novel is more appealing than a short story writer, it is the quality that makes a novel a best seller.

Given a choice, I’d pick up a collection of short stories over a novel. To read as well as to write.

What about you- a short story collection or a full length novel?

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