Pssst! Can I ask you a question? We've known each other for a while now, and I feel like we've established a relationship where we can drop the pretenses and be honest with each other. There's something I've been meaning to ask you, and I don't know the best way, so I'm just going to come right out and ask: why don't you read short fiction?
If I've misread you, I'm sorry. If you love reading short fiction like I do, then I'm glad we found some common ground on which we can share our mutual love of reading. But if I've read you correctly, then…we need to talk. If you're intentionally avoiding short fiction then you're cheating yourself out of some fantastic reading experiences. Here, let me break it down for you…
Seven Reasons Why You Should Be Reading Short Fiction
Authors Often Expand Their Novels with Short Fiction
I get it. You love binge reading the latest epic fantasy series from your favorite author. Would it surprise you to know that some authors augment the world you love with short stories? Some years back, Robert Silverberg devoted two entire anthologies (Legends and Legends II) to new stories based on already-existing worlds written by the authors who created them. Readers were thrilled to return to the worlds of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire ("Hedge Knight"), Anne McCaffrey's Pern ("Runner of Pern") and Neil Gaiman's American Gods ("The Monarch of the Glen"). If you feel you need to dip into short fiction slowly, such stories will be your best route.
Short Stories Don't Overstay Their Welcome
From a writer's perspective, the idea behind a short story is deceptively simple: one story equals one idea. That single idea, that one conceit, drives the narrative directly to its conclusion with no pit stops along the way. You'll find no padding here. Every single paragraph in a short story moves that one idea to its next logical step. The beauty of a short story lies in the purity of this one idea.
Your Days Will Magically be Filled with More Reading Time
How many times have you wanted to pick up a novel but didn't because you didn't think you'd have enough time to finish it before life got in the way? Good news: because short stories are, well, short, the time commitment to any one story is much less. You'll be able to read more because you'll be filling up those smaller chunks of free time – anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours – with great stories. Haven't you always asked for more reading time? Now you can have it.
Short Fiction Will Steer You Towards New Authors to Love
I've been watching your reading habits, and I know you obsess over authors. Once you find an author you like, you seek out more of their work. That's not a bad thing. When you find something you like, it makes sense to look for more of the same. Wouldn't it be even cooler if you had many more authors that you liked? Short stories – especially multi-author anthologies – let you find new voices that match your reading tastes. As your list of favorite authors grow, so do your reading choices. Case in point: I recently began reading through the anthology Swords & Steam Short Stories edited by Laura Bulbeck, in which I read a superb gothic horror story called "Little Healers" by Andrew Bourelle, an author I've never read before and never would have encountered otherwise. Thanks, short fiction!
Short Fiction Will Steer You Towards New Genres
Here's another unexpected benefit of reading short fiction: as you fit more stories into your day, you will encounter more kinds of stories. For example, let's say you're reading a single-author science fiction collection like The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu. You'll find stories about mythological creatures, magic realism, time travel, and more. By reading short fiction, you may discover that you like steampunk way more than you thought you would. Maybe you have a natural attraction to Sherlock Holmes stories that mix in fantasy elements. Short fiction can be your gateway into realms you never even knew existed.
Reading Short Fiction Will Broaden Your Reading Horizons
If you're reading more while discovering new voices and genres, it naturally follows that you will be broadening your reading horizons. Reading a wide variety of stories – including ones outside your comfort zone – can let you see things from different perspectives, experience different cultures, and help you identify the kinds of stories you want to add to your reading list. If variety is the spice of life, think of short fiction as your reading library's spice rack.
More Bang for Your Reading Buck
"But John," I hear you saying, "I already spend too much money on books! I can't buy short fiction, too!" My wallet and I share your pain, so much so that I shared some great free venues for short fiction. But here's another benefit of reading short fiction: you will be able to get more out of your reading dollar. How can that be when a book of short stories cost the same as a novel? It's because readers tend not to think of reading accomplishments as the number of pages they've read, but instead as the number of stories they've read. I could read ten novels a year and experience ten stories, or I could read ten anthologies and collections a year and read anywhere from 100 to 150 stories. By year's end, I will have read the same number of pages, but many more stories. That's my takeaway. I'm not saying read only short stories. By all means, mix it up! I'm saying add a little variety to your longer novel meals by reading short story snacks.
The Reasons You're Not Reading Short Fiction Just Don't Stand Up
I've heard some of the reasons folks don't read short fiction, and I have to say, they don't really hold any water. Among the reason's I've heard:
Short Fiction Stories Are Incomplete Stories
Writers are not in the business of writing incomplete stories, and I doubt there's a publisher who would even entertain such a notion. (Serialized fiction is a special case in that it's a complete story delivered piecemeal.) Short stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like longer novels, and will leave you just as satisfied.
Short Stories Always Leave You Wanting More
I sure do hope so! Wanting more of what you read is a good thing. It means you've found something that you really like reading. Good for you! Now, go find some more of it. But don't confuse wanting more with being satisfied. Short stories will leave you satisfied.
Not All Short Fiction is Good
Well, yeah. Neither are all novels. Or all ice cream flavors. Your mileage will vary with any piece of art…or ice cream. Here's a question: would you rather spend 30 minutes reading a bad short story of 10 hours reading a bad novel? I know my answer.
Enough Already! Where Should I Start?
Ready to take the first step into the fantastic world of short fiction? Great! There are lots of great places to start. I will repeat myself here with some short fiction reading suggestions culled from recent "Picks of the Month" articles:
- All Systems Red by Martha Wells
- Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories by Kim Newman
- Behind the Mask edited by Tricia Reeks & Kyle Richardson
- Besieged: Stories from The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
- Best of British Science Fiction 2016 edited by Donna Scott
- Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer
- Collected Ghost Stories edited by Darryl Jones
- Cosmic Powers edited by John Joseph Adams
- Dark Cities edited by Christopher Golden
- Dark Screams: Volume Seven edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar
- Dark Screams: Volume Six ed. by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar
- Dear Sweet Filthy World by Caitlin R. Kiernan
- Elasticity: The Best of Elastic Press edited by Andrew Hook
- Entropic Angel by Gareth L. Powell
- Entropy in Bloom: Stories by Jeremy Robert Johnson
- Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore edited by Paula Guran
- Galactic Empires edited by Neil Clarke
- Heroic Fantasy Short Stories by Flame Tree Publishing
- Latin@ Rising An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Matthew David Goodwin
- Lost Worlds Short Stories by Flame Tree Publishing
- Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
- Nebula Awards Showcase 2017 edited by Julie E. Czerneda
- Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry & George A. Romero
- Rise: A Newsflesh Collection: The Complete Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant
- River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
- Shadows & Tall Trees 7 edited by Michael Kelly
- Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop
- Supernatural Horror Short Stories by Flame Tree Publishing
- Swords Against Darkness edited by Paula Guran
- Telling the Map: Stories by Christopher Rowe
- Tender by Sofia Samatar
- The Best Horror of the Year Volume Nine edited by Ellen Datlow
- The Best of Gordon R. Dickson Volume 1
- The Best of Subterranean edited by William Schafer
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eleven edited by Jonathan Strahan
- The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Two edited by Neil Clarke
- The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
- The Hole in the Moon and Other Tales by Margaret St. Clair
- The Horror on the Links by Seabury Quinn
- The Mammoth Book of the Mummy edited by Paula Guran
- The Man with the Speckled Eyes by R.A. Lafferty
- The Unorthodox Dr. Draper and Other Stories by William Browning Spencer
- The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories by Terry Pratchett
- The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2017 Edition edited by Paula Guran
- The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2017 Ed. ed. by Rich Horton
- The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois
- Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod
- Thought X: Fictions and Hypotheticals edited by Robert Appleby & Ra Page
- Time Travel Short Stories by Flame Tree Publishing
- Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages
- Year's Best Hardcore Horror V2 ed. by Randy Chandler & Cheryl Mullenax
- Year's Best Military and Adventure SF V3 edited by David Afsharirad