How old are short stories?
Short fiction is as old as humankind. Novels are the new fang-dangled thing.
The first short tales were oral. Storytellers often used rhyme to memorise stories. One the earliest still surviving tales is “The Shipwrecked Sailor” written on papyrus in Egypt around 2000 BCE. The Greek Aesop’s fables, the first know collection, dates to the 4th century BCE. Short tales proliferated through the middle ages and renaissance and were refined by authors such as Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. Then along came the 16th-century and the rise of ‘The Novel’. A latecomer to the party.
The modern short story truly emerged in the 19th century. Unlike a tale, packed with romance and myth, early proponents of the genre, including Goethe, insisted it should be real – it did happen or it could have happened. Luckily we got over this hang-up.
The 20th-century was the golden age of the modern short story and it could even pay well for the creator. In the 1920s, Scott Fitzgerald was paid $4,000 for a single story. Everyone was writing short stories and many of these collections are still on shelves today. Then the internet came along and a whole new way of consuming short stories alongside the rise of flash fiction.
Why do I love short fiction?
I think our brains are wired to need stories and short tales were the first way we sated this need.
Short fiction has the power of less being more. A short story is a sliver of a person’s life. What came before and what happens afterward is left unsaid. It is like looking through a microscope and studying insignificance and discovering how important every moment of life can be. A good short story packs in character and emotion and conflict with so few words and is a marvel of restraint and focus.
Short stories are intense and concentrated and can tell a truth about what it is to be human with such succinctness that we do not forget the message. I remember a short story about a girl who has to wear hand-me-down swimmers to a party. I can’t remember who wrote it or where I read it other than it being decades ago. Her true friends still liked her despite her hand-me-down swimmers. That is what I needed to know when I read it. This is the power of a short story.
Have you tried interlinked stories?
I got obsessed with interlinked or composite novels. A collection of short stories put together in such a way that they create a whole which is a sum of the parts.
I embarked on writing such a collection about Paul, the Dark Poet and discovered how hard it is to write a novel of this type. You have to constantly search for new ideas that fit the big picture. Each individual story has its own genesis and effort. The idea of the Dark Poet came first but I only discovered who he was through the eyes of the people I found in each of the stories.
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