Observers have noted for several decades now that the traditional art of the short story has been declining. There are many reasons for this, which will be outlined below. However, new technologies have offered a turning point in the history of the short story and may even be responsible for the resurgence of this literary form. Below is an exploration of the decline of the short story and how various technologies may be used to save it.
Why Has The Short Story Experienced A Decline?
The short story has been a staple of literature for hundreds of years. Many of the greatest writers of the past and present have honed their craft writing short stories and produced some of the most fabulous short fiction in history. Students often read these short stories in textbooks as part of school curriculums, whether in high school or college. However, in spite of the high regard society holds many classic short works in, modern short stories do not attract significant public attention for the most part.
There are many reasons most analysts point to that explain the decline of the short story. The first is that there often isn’t much money to be made from it. Few authors who specialize in short stories make anything close to enough to live on. It is hard enough for novelists to make a living, let alone writers wanting to write solely short fiction.
Another reason is competition for reader attention. There are so many other options for multimedia entertainment, such as TV shows and video games, that the number of people who read fiction, in general, has declined. Many people also enjoy longer, more drawn-out plots where they have time to get attached to the characters in a story, leading them to prefer novels over short stories. Short stories are also often seen as more literary and academic, contrary to the taste for genre fiction in the general population.
The decline of magazines is another reason for the decline of short stories, and of the magazines that are left, fewer are accepting fiction. Fortunately, digital print is thriving, opening doorways for new magazines and publications specializing in short stories to flourish.
Digital distribution is the single greatest factor working in favor of short stories. Short stories lend themselves very well to digital distribution of various types. One of the factors that often works against short stories is their length. Because they are short, it is usually impossible to publish them in print outside of a collection. When publishing digitally, however, length does not matter as much. This has also helped the short story’s longer cousin, the novella, which has historically been notoriously difficult to print or publish.
Authors have a vast number of options when it comes to distributing their work digitally. If they are lucky enough to get accepted into a well-known publication, such as the New Yorker, their stories are published in the digital editions of those prestigious publications. There are many more small, digital-only publications that publish short stories regularly. Distribution via online ebook stores, such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple and Kobo, is also an attractive and effective option. Finally, short stories can easily be posted online, such as on blogs, social media feeds and on private websites.
Technology has made it easier than ever for anyone to publish a book. This means stories that may have been declined by traditional publishers can find new life when their authors publish them independently. Traditional publishers and magazines decline stories for many different reasons, including stories that are actually very good. Some of these reasons can include recent acceptance of a similar story, not fitting the brand of the publication, not being of a subject matter or genre the publisher expects will sell, and, of course, the quality of the story itself.
Indie authors are free to publish short stories in any genre or niche they want, and even mix genres for interesting combinations many traditional publishers won’t touch. They also produce more stories in popular genres, such as romance and science fiction, that many people like to read but are less likely to find homes in traditional, prestigious literary journals.
Social media is another recent technology that has helped the short story. Certain sites, such as Wattpad and Scribd, allow authors to publish their writing and connect directly with readers. Even more general social media sites with limited word counts per post can have a positive impact. For example, on Twitter, writing a short story within Twitter’s character limit has become something of an art form all its own. In addition to posting the actual text of the story itself, authors can promote their work through social media to gain a base of readers clamoring for more.
Because of how tough it is to make it as a fiction writer, many students and other individuals wanting to become authors start out writing short fiction. Short stories are an excellent way for a young author to hone their craft and grasp the basic elements of storytelling, such as voice, the point of view, descriptions, dialogue, plot and more. Authors can turn to social media for writing advice and support, which helps them produce better short fiction that publishers will want to accept and readers will want to read.
Technology has undoubtedly played a part in bringing back the short story. Thanks to online publications and independent authors, short stories have reached a wider distribution than ever before, as well as become easier to read by themselves. More readers are discovering short stories online and have found they enjoy reading them. It is very possible that technology will continue to cause a resurgence of this literary art form.