Why this short story fan will never write a novel

If you want to make money writing, write novels. No poetry. Not a short story collection.

That’s the advice you usually read when it comes to building a profitable writing business. While short story sales are picking up, it’s still seen as a somewhat lesser-than form. Writing manuals and websites talk about them as practice, as exercises to perfect your craft before you take on the superior challenge of the novel.

But that’s not the case everywhere. In other corners of the world, with different literary traditions, the short story is a respectable form of fiction in its own right.

I grew up reading Horacio Quiroga, Salarrué, and Juan Rulfo. In my teenage years, I mixed Russian novels with short stories by Cortázar, Borges, García Márquez, and Alejo Carpentier.

In fact, my favourite book growing up is a collection of short stories — “Lejos como mi querer y otros cuentos” by Brazilian writer Marina Colasanti. Her book is an anthology of whimsical, somewhat melancholic fairy tales that reflected on the topics of magic, love and loss, loneliness and family. If there was a fire in my apartment, this book would be the one thing I’d take with me.

Why short stories, though? Yes, the Latin American short story has a long tradition of writers using, adapting, and transforming European influences to the unique, sometimes unfathomable reality they were trying to portray, criticise, or mock. But that’s not all there is to it for me.

There’s something immediate, undefined about short stories that I find more fun than writing a novel. Short stories are action. You can just jump in the writing with just an idea, with minimal research, just to see what happens. And this is coming from someone who loves research, to the point of getting stuck in the research process for far too long before finally taking action.

I love the imperfection of unfinished worlds, the ephemeral nature of an encounter left open, undefined. So in a way, despite the length restrictions, the short story gives me more freedom than a novel ever could.

short story
Photo: simpleinsomnia on Flick

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