Randall DeVallance: Short Stories Are Catnip for Amateurs

Kafka statue
photo credit: Kenn Wilson via Flickr

I remember reading somewhere, about five years ago, that more than half of all Americans between the ages of twenty and forty reported being in a band. The commentariat felt that this boded ill for the future of the music industry, having more participants than audience members. The same thing seems to be happening now with short stories. For every person I’ve met who professes to love reading short stories, I meet ten who claim to write them. Brevity demands precision and skill; it is also catnip to the amateur author. Whereas a novel demands time, patience and a yeomanlike work ethic to complete, a short story can often be finished in a single afternoon. As with poetry – an even more egregious example – it is an art form whose difficulty to master is in inverse proportion to the number of people willing to give it a try. Its diminutiveness is mistaken for simplicity, as if any rube off the turnip truck could construct a microchip.

“[Short stories] are the inevitable future of fiction writing, if fiction writing is to have a future.”

As I sit here, trying to carve out the fifteen minutes necessary to write down these two paragraphs, it occurs to me that my opinion on short stories is beside the point. They are the inevitable future of fiction writing, if fiction writing is to have a future. In my more pessimistic moments, I fear it will be a bleak future indeed; the short story’s perseverance seems predicated on vanity, the co-opted veneer of sophistication that accompanies being a published “writer.” Then I think to myself, “Franz Kafka.” There could always be another. Who knows?

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