Despite the fact that I’ve heard modern children described as being attention-span challenged — the assumption being they are used to, and expect, information to be dispensed in short sound-bite form — short story collections for teens are still few and far between – especially ones by the same author. Slightly more common are the anthologies where several big name authors contribute one story each.
I read – and wrote – short stories as part of my Vermont College education. My thought was that writing a short story would help me transition from picture book manuscripts to novels. It’s true that short stories are an excellent way to try something style-wise. For instance you can experiment with writing from a particular point of view, the use of metaphors or some other literary technique, or to explore a particular setting without the lengthy time-commitment that a novel requires. But really, the short story is a very separate and distinct art form.
Short stories are an excellent way to show sudden insight, but novels are better at demonstrating lasting change. Short stories take the character to one crucial moment and then let them go. I think I like writing short stories because I feel like I can focus on character development – that is what I love best. Short stories tend to be very intense experiences in the life of one individual.
Even though they are shorter, short stories are not necessarily easier to write, or even to read. I think short stories require more of the reader. Because of their brevity, readers must jump into the story immediately instead of stepping in slowly. They are often require to infer and to make sense of a brand new world with minimal details. They may be distracted by the awareness that a clock is ticking – there are only so many more pages to wrap things up.
The Kissing Game by Aidan Chambers was one of the ARCs I picked up at ALA in January. This collection of 16 stories is quite fun and intriguing. Some read like more traditional short stories while others are short – more like flash fiction. A couple are written only with dialogue, almost like reading a play without the stage directions. Some are funny, others tragic and heart-breaking. All are worth reading. Each story stands alone.
This collection is a terrific example of an author experimenting and playing with form. The back cover of the ARC says: “… Aidan Chambers examines moments of truth when a conversation or an event suddenly reveals a surprising, sometimes life-altering meaning.”
For me, that’s what the best short stories aim to do.
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK