The short story manifesto

Many writers see short stories as a stepping stone to novel publication. If we can convince a magazine or two to pick up our short fiction, it’s more likely that an agent will give our novels a second glance.

Believing this, I have recently been reading more short stories in literary magazines to get a better idea of what’s being printed. And I’ve come across a strange phenomenon — short stories have no plot. At least, the last few I’ve read in well-respected literary magazines don’t. What they have is a main character whose mental state is elucidated through a series of vignettes that are not necessarily in chronological order.

I don’t like this trend. I write stories because I love stories. I love their power, and their artistry, and their ability to connect people across time, space, and cultures. Much of this power rests in plot – the constant forward pull of action and reaction.

These modern short stories have no real beginning, middle, and end. They are not grounded in time and space. The characters drift in a dreamlike state through a barely connected series of unbelievable events. Each event is a tiny story in itself, but it does not drive toward a greater whole. I find myself often entertained, but just as often unable to connect with these characters. They do not affect me for longer than it takes my eyes to skim the page. I do not stay up nights thinking about them. I certainly do not dream about them.

I have read short stories that stick with me, that keep me awake and follow me into dream. I hope someday to write one like that myself.

Maybe it will make me nonpunishable, maybe I am uncultured or out of touch with modern thought, but I intend to keep writing stories with a beginning,middle, and end. I intend to allow my characters to be pulled along by plot. And I intend to make that plot believable – at least within the context of the world I have created.


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