You can’t build the same kind of relationship with the characters of a stand-alone movie or a short story as you can with a TV show or a long novel/series of novels, which is why I’m not as much of a fan of the short story format. Don’t get me wrong – there are many movies that I enjoy (even love) and many short stories that I consider to be quite good. But when I’m going to sit down to read something on my own, I have to admit that I’m quite biased against the short story format because even if a story is well-written, creative and thirty pages long, I still can’t bond with the characters the way that I can in a novel that’s a couple hundred pages long. Twenty or thirty pages in to a story, I feel as though I’m just starting to get to know a character – and I want to know much, much more about them. A short story basically feels like a tease to me. The author is taunting me with the tip of the iceberg.
I feel a bit guilty that I'm not really that fond of short stories – I’m a “literary” person with a Master’s Degree in Literature, so I’m supposed to like a lot of things that other “Literature people” consider to be good. But since I’ve graduated (and even more since I’ve moved in to a new career field), I’ve learned to be honest about my preferences. I don’t have anything against short stories – I just don’t personally enjoy them as much as novels. You don’t get the experience of immersion.
I don’t have a particular stance on novellas because I’ve realized that a truly engaging reading experience isn’t only dependent on the form and length. Since novellas are defined as being shorter than a novel, they don’t tend to offer the same kind of total/long-term immersion in another world as a longer novel. But if I can become engrossed in the story of a novella – even if it is just for a few hours – and bond with at least one of the characters, then I’m happy. There are several short novels/novellas that I have found very interesting and absorbing. I think that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold is probably my favorite of these because once you unwind its twisty, circular narrative, the characters are interesting, mysterious and compelling. (I will be posting a review of Chronicle before the end of the week.) In other words, I’ve realized that the writer’s ability to absorb a reader like me has less to do with the number of pages, and much more to do with how deeply they develop their characters.
I realize that not everyone reads and/or watches TV to develop deeply engaging “relationships” with the characters, which is why the short story, the short film, poetry, comedic sketches and more avant-garde novels all have enthusiastic (if some times small audiences). And I can enjoy some of these other story forms to a certain extent. But while I might be glad that I’ve read T.S. Eliot’s poetry, I have to admit that in my spare time after work, I’m far less likely to pick up Eliot than I am to grab one of my tattered copies of Harry Potter and loose myself in that complex world of plot twists and richly developed characters. If something is truly well-written, then I say the longer, the better.
I want to take a moment to promote the Weekly Geeks Blog/Reading Challenge for this week, which is centered around the theme of “short and sweet” books. This challenge inspired me to share my thoughts on short stories and novellas, and it has also motivated me to try to review several shorter novels and novellas from my TBR pile this week. If you have a book blog, check out this Weekly Geeks Challenge and consider posting on one or more of the questions. Then come back and leave a link to your post here in the comments section. I’m interested to hear everyone's thoughts on short stories, literary preferences, etc.