Since the beginning, heroic stories of great feats and daring adventure have always been long epic tales. From the poetry and narratives of Homer and Ovid, to Le Morte d'Arthur of Sir Mallory, mythical stories, legends, and now modern fantasy stories have become long tombs covering multiple publications with thousands and thousands of pages. Sales figures for such lengthy stories continue to climb as each successive generation acclimates to longer and longer story arcs. In modern publishing history, what may have started with a prequel and simple trilogy with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, has now turned into series that span 3, 6, 9, or even 14 books.
Yet there is a discrepancy.
We are told that because of the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, etc. that our attention spans are getting shorter; our ability to remember details over the course of a long story is less and less; we can't follow narratives that arc across various episodes or chapters. The fiction we buy, and the shows we watch tend to contradict those statements though. In fact, book sales figures indicate just the opposite. Modern readers demand fantasy at least a trilogy, and while science fiction fans will enjoy stand-alone novels, they too like trilogies and longer.
In the pulp fiction days, writers were able to make a living writing short stories, and many rarely wrote novels. It wasn't unusual though for some authors to write serial stories published over several issues. The days of making a living writing short fiction are long gone, and modern publishers rarely publish short story collections unless big names are attached - authors who have established a strong following through their novels - because of the poor sales of those collections.
I'm not the first to ponder this enigma: If our attention spans are so short, why isn't short fiction more popular? My regular Cheesy Readers know I'm a big fan of short fiction and I always encourage readers to buy and read it whether it's in magazine or book form. Short fiction is not a lost art, as many have proclaimed. It is as strong as ever, popular among writers, but only marginally so among those who aren't. There are many wonderful stories, adventures, and excellent writing in short stories. Many well-established novelists began with the short form and frequently continue to write it long after novels become their main vocation and revenue stream.
Honestly, put down your smartphone, quit checking your text message and Facebook updates, and instead pick up a short story collection. Read a story while waiting at the dentist, while waiting on your flight, or getting an oil change. Your life will be enriched and you'll be promoting an art form that very much needs your financial backing.
Until Next Time...