Books Livros Opinion column

The Perennial Short Stories

What's your take on short stories? Bruno shares his views, advices, and how short stories can be helpful for a writter, while keeping a eye on their 'market reality'.

I still love writing short stories. I should write more, actually, but they don’t have nearly enough commercial power. I admire those writers (I know a few) that revel in short stories and are able to write dozens or hundreds of short stories a year. 

In my experience, short stories are the essence of learning how to write. I tend to discourage anyone from jumping into writing novels without learning everything they can from writing short stories. And there is a lot to learn. The essence of storytelling – as worldbuilding, or style and description, or the build-up/payoff dynamic – can be better learnt investing in short, contained texts. All the greats tend to start there. Just ask George R.R. Martin or Stephen King. A novel is a wild animal, a monster, and should be treated like that: unless you are trained enough to tame it, stay away from it. My first few novels were archived in the Oblivion Drawer as the failed works they were. Even after a lot of training in the short story boot camp, I still got it wrong for a while.

Shorts are also the way to get early feedback that will encourage you to keep going. And even if you get a negative, you can easily abandon one story and start another and another until you get it.

But nowadays, unless I have a good reason to approach one, I don’t tend to write short stories. I recently published a new short in both Portuguese and English. It’s called ‘The Hole’. I actually wrote it a few years back, thinking of submitting it to an anthology of Alternative History. It’s a funny story that reminds me of Phillip Marlowe or Mike Hammer, but moving in an alternative kind-of electropunk Lisbon in a clumsy absurd way. This bum, Lemos, has a wormhole in the middle of his heart – which in a way or another gets him depressed, even if he denies it. As I reread it recently, I decided to publish it. (And I will give it away for free in the newsletter I’m issuing soon – stay tuned.) 

As funny and as powerful and as insightful as short stories can be, they don’t sell very well. People want to get immerse and fall in love with characters and spend time with them. I must confess I also prefer to read novels.

Still, I have a few shorts out there. My first awards were for short stories. In particular, my short ‘Mindsweeper’ won the Young Creators National Award almost 30 years ago. It was republished recently by Penguin/Random House. It’s surprising how I could write interesting stuff even back there, before I knew anything. 

And now I have a few selling on Amazon. Short stories, believe me, depend on the ending. The three stories I have on Amazon reflect a little bit of that. ‘The Hole’, ends with a couple of twists I hope you can’t see coming but which satirize the Portuguese character. ‘Moving’ is a story about a guy whose books refuse to move, always returning to the shelf they were before when he’s trying to move to a new house. Some people say it ends a bit abruptly, but everything had been said when I got there, so I stopped. And ‘Maria and The Ocean’, the story of a little girl the Atlantic Ocean falls in love with, is told as a chronicle and ends at the end of the story, pure and simple. Still, I put an effort in each of the endings and I think they came out right.

I have a couple of other short stories in my head, and I hope I pick up the habit of writing two or three a year that I can be proud of. If so, you’ll see more of them coming out on Amazon, I’m sure.

I am challenged occasionally to write something for an anthology, but I keep having trouble scheduling it right, as my novels keep getting in the way. Anyhow, you tell me. Do you like short stories? Do you read them? I would love to know.

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