Shorts, sips, bites, nibbles – How do you like them?

When I asked your views about M/M erotic romances a few weeks ago here is what one of you had to say about short stories:

“I’d like there to be a plethora of longer, meatier (stop it!) books, ……….I’ve pretty much given up shorts, shots, sips, naps, nibbles, etc. I am always disappointed”

This was a constant  refrain from many of you because the “insta love” in these books was just not credible.

While I agree wholeheartedly with your criticisms because I, too, am often disappointed by short M/M stories, I remember reading Brokeback Mountain which was only 35 pages but had such an amazing impact on me and thousands, maybe millions of readers.

So, is it the skill of the writer or the format being used for M/M books, or a bit of both, that are the root causes of all of these unsatisfactory books? Many M/M publishers promote short stories because they can be written and published within weeks or a couple of months, and some readers love them because they are a quick read between dinner and going to bed. But even those who like short stories (5 – 10K) complain that they seem to be written in a hurry to make a quick buck. There is also the same dissatisfaction with novellas and that is inexcusable because authors have upto 30K in which to make their stories enjoyable and deliver an ending that’s believable, but many of them fail to take advantage of the extra word count and end up with a book that no one will read more than once. Invariably, when I read M/M short stories I end up wanting to throw them against the wall because most of the authors forget that regardless of the length, readers need a plot, two characters that will move us, some good prose and dialogue (maybe even funny dialogue) and an ending that we can believe. Does it make sense to you, authors, that two guys will meet and in the space of 24 or 48 hours they will fall in love instantly and move in together or head to the altar?

I must admit that recently I have come to dislike short M/M stories because many of them leave me asking the question – “Is this all there is?” It’s my opinion that the authors try to cram too much plot (let’s not even talk about the amount of sex)  into the word count and when they run out of words they squeeze in a HEA on the last page because they know that without that all important HEA or HFN, the chances of  readers recommending their books to friends who read romance are just about nil. So they race to the finish line with an improbable ending that no one believes, but does satisfy the criteria of being a romance.

Writing enjoyable short stories requires a great deal of skill, probably more than novels, and I don’t believe that many writers have acquired that skill to deliver shorts that grab your attention from the first page and when you read “The End” you want to beg the characters to stay because you love them and the plot so much. I remember reading a Sip by Clare London almost 2 years ago called Deep Cover (this was the first book I had read by this author) and I was so impressed at what she was able to do with 16 pages that she became an auto buy.

I believe that most authors make the mistake of thinking that writing short stories is just like writing a novel and approach them the same way; they do a poor job for the simple reason that these are completely different formats. In short stories readers do not have the  luxury of getting to know the characters over an extended period of a several hours, bonding with them, and understanding a complicated plot which is usually too intricate for such a limited word count, and they end up dissatisfied with the product. That’s my view anyway. 🙂

I think that if these ‘shorts’ don’t improve in content, characterization, plot, dialogue and prose, and do not depend on just sex to sell them, more readers will become disenchanted and stop buying them.

So what do you think readers? Authors your views are very important because you are readers too – what do you think?

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

78 comments

  • WOW. I could hardly skim half the comments here–but I do have some thoughts of my own.

    Short stories ARE hard to write–they require a different skill set than novels and that’s the truth.

    Many of literature’s greatest short stories are sci-fi/fantasy stories, because those genres allow for the ambiguous ending–and the kind of ending that makes you think hard and work for satisfaction. Obviously, with a romantic short story, the ambiguous ending is NOT an option.

    While my publisher doesn’t ‘require’ me to have an HEA, and it doesn’t lay down word percentages for sex scenes (for which I’m eternally grateful) and, in fact, doesn’t require a sex scene at all, if it’s not integral to the story, part of the charm of a short romantic story can be the big orgasmic payoff, and I think that’s why a lot of readers tune in. They want a quickie–either emotionally or intellectually, and that can be a fun thing! Of course, that means that part of the challenge is constructing a story with the classic plot pyramid… conflict, build, conflict, build, conflict, build, CLIMAX, denouement.

    The thing is, THAT’S what readers really need to be looking for in a short. If a short story does that, with character development to boot, it’s done it’s job. The emotional involvement of a longer story isn’t necessarily going to be there–but that’s not a fault of craftsmanship, any more than the failure of a steak knife being used to hew down a rosebush is a failure of craftsmanship on the part of the knife. Did it have a bang? (And in spite of the fun pun there, it doesn’t really have to be a sex scene, honest!) Did it have a build to the bang? Did it have a an afterglow? (Still doesn’t need to be sex!) If it has these things, it’s fulfilled it’s purpose.

    I notice the Brokeback Mountain is used as the quintessential short story. One of the reasons it succeeds so well is that it ends badly, and the reader is left to ponder the ‘what ifs’ of the situation, and sorrow over them as well.

    And, as someone who (in my indie work) has been hammered to the wall in a big ugly bloody mess for leaving a novel with a sad ending, (or working damned hard for a happy one) I’d have to say that sometimes, it is worth it to write a pleasant (if unexceptional) short story that leaves people happy as opposed to writing a big, heart-ripping angst buster that has people e-mailing you out of the blue to say “You bitch! How could you kill Adrian! How could Crick leave Deacon! Dammit, I thought you liked people!”

    Reply
  • Wow, I’m so sorry I missed this while I was away, and not only because I got mentioned in dispatches! LOL

    I like to read shorts because of leisure time pressures, though I confess that some of them leave me feeling unsatisfied. I enjoy the ones that give me the whole characters in a few words, without having to describe their socks and shoes and grandmother’s ancestry. Then take me on a journey with them, however short in actual distance or time. Nor do I need an HEA, my furthest expectation is HFN. Who quoted that fab thing about “something must change”? I think that’s an excellent parameter to keep beside you, both as reader and writer.

    Does anyone think the increased number of shorts is largely a symptom of the e-publishing industry? I used to write more shorts – merith has shared an antho with me in the past! – but I was told somewhere along the line that the mainstream publishing industry had no time for them. But it’s so much easier to present them in e-form that there’s now a legitimate outlet.

    Or maybe it’s a cross-over from fanfic writers going pro? A lot of fanfic involves shorter work, “slices of life”, exploring themes and scenes rather than creating whole worlds.

    We authors should take just as much time and care with them – sometimes MORE, because you have to ruthlessly cull, you lose the luxury of taking more time and words to tell your story. Every word should count, and a short conversation has to illustrate what could have been a chapter in a novel. I’ve always thought it calls for a different skill than novel-writing, it’s not just an excerpt of a longer work.

    But they’re fun to write! Many times I have a couple of scenes in my mind that won’t expand to novel length, yet there’s a story to be shared. And let’s face it, sometimes I don’t have the time to write a lengthy book, but want to keep in touch with readers.

    Great post, Wave. Sorry I was late to the party 🙂

    Reply
  • Clarification to anyone interested. Wild Thing is in edits. It’s not out yet. When it is, I’ll be sure to post it on my website and blog.

    Thanks for the interest!

    Reply

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