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09 September 2008 @ 01:49 pm
Longer =/= Better  
Fandom is obsessed with size.

No, not that way (or not just that way). There is a pervasive attitude among fanfic readers that a long story is automatically "better" than a short story, and that, therefore, any given story would be better if it were longer.

As a writer of short-shorts, this makes me crazed.

I don't want to seem ungrateful, because I do appreciate every piece of feedback I get. I really, really do. But every single serious SGA short I've done, I've gotten at least one comment to the effect of, "This is great! Why don't you make it longer?"

I know this is meant well, in the sense of it's good enough that the reader wants more of the same. But folks, for a short-short, this is not a compliment. A short-short, by definition, is a "punchline" story. The punchline may be funny, it may be depressing, it may be subtly horrifying, but whatever it is, it's the end of the story. The punch is the point; anything after that is mere droning on, that not only doesn't enhance the effect, but actively saps it. And too much lead-up to the punch is no better; like Hitchcock, a short-short takes its power from letting the reader's imagination fill in the shapes in the shadows. Shining a spotlight in there by drawing it out ten times as long does not make it better.

When you ask for a novella about something that was described in three paragraphs, you're asking for the shapes in the shadows to step out, introduce themselves, and detail every day of their lives since kindergarten. When you ask for a sequel about what happens after a character's life is utterly destroyed, you're ignoring the fact that for all practical purposes, he doesn't have a life after that.

Way to miss the point, people.

Oddly enough, humorous stories seem relatively immune from this response. Maybe it's because people are more familiar with the concept of a joke as a structure with a short build-up, a punchline, and done. When a rabbi, a minister, and a priest walk into a bar, nobody wants to know what they order after the bartender asks, "Is this a joke?" But if the rabbi, the minister, and the priest walk into a bar and some creepy, subtly horrific occurrence makes them all doubt the tenets of their faith, suddenly some readers want to hear all about how they cried themselves to sleep that night, what they told their bosses the next day, and how it affected them for the rest of their lives. Which would be boring, and worse, would take the gut-punch of the ending (if the author did it right) and turn it into more of a tap on the shoulder.

One of the best fan stories I ever read appeared in Clipper Trade Ship, an old print zine back in the days when that was how you got your fanfic. It was a Prisoner story from the POV of Rover. It was a page, maybe a page and a half long -- and this was in a digest-size zine. If it had been twenty pages, and described Rover's typical day in detail, and where it came from, and its hopes and aspirations for the future, I doubt I would have even finished the thing. I certainly wouldn't recall it to this day as one of the most chilling things I've ever read in fandom.

To head off the inevitable argument: I'm not talking here about those "stories" which are in fact mere summaries of the action, because the novice author doesn't know any better. A story should be as long as it needs to be to tell itself, and if there are enough plot twists, character development, and so on to justify a 200,000 word novel, then that's what should be written. Cutting that down to 500 or 1000 words wouldn't make it a short-short, it would make it a blurb to pitch to a publisher. But equally, taking a story that is complete unto itself at 500 words and stretching it out to twenty-seven lengthy chapters would not make it a novel; it would make it a waste of time, energy, and eyeballs.

I am royally tired of seeing short-shorts treated as the grudgingly-tolerated step-siblings of "good", i.e., long, stories, overlooked and disdained because they don't take hours to read. The quality of a story is not a function of its length! And I am really fed up with being told that my tight, efficient little tales would be better if I rambled on endlessly or piled on a herd of epilogues after the main climax was done. I'm thrilled you read my story, and I'm delighted you liked it. But when I've handed Atlantis over to escapees from a horror movie, or irrevocably taken away everything Rodney ever cared about, or slid the physics lab sideways into the Twilight Zone, please don't ask for sequels or expansions. If I've failed to convey the point or the mood, fine, I want to know that, so I can be clearer next time. But I don't want to hear how great it would be if it were longer; that may be intended as a compliment, but it's a compliment to some other story, not to the story I actually wrote.


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Black Petaled Lotuskuroilotus on September 9th, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)
I appreciate that someone else feels my pain. Not that you really wanted to hear that.
Liz A. Vogel: Good Badlizvogel on September 10th, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)
It's nice to know I'm not alone, I guess?
Black Petaled Lotuskuroilotus on September 11th, 2008 11:17 am (UTC)
If the saying is true, there is some safety in numbers. Though I don't know safe from what in this case.
grypeseyegrypeseye on September 10th, 2008 02:18 am (UTC)
Personally, I like knowing that I can read several stories in a single sitting. I enjoy the long ones as well, but I get more of a sense of accomplishment if I can say, "I read 20 stories today." My favorite Doctor/River story to date was only 2 pages at most.
Liz A. Vogel: Good Badlizvogel on September 10th, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC)
Shorts let you get more variety, certainly. And these days, I don't always have the time, energy, or (in the case of internet fic) the eye-strain tolerance to read a lot of long stuff.
(Anonymous) on November 12th, 2008 04:51 am (UTC)
Fredric Brown, we hardly knew ye . . . you should've written longer stories
I'm sick and tired of seeing short-shorts treated as the grudgingly- tolerated step-siblings of "good", i.e., long, pants.

And kudos for the accurate use of hypens! I am pleased.

You know . . . I loved that story with the T.A.R.D.I.S. and its similarly-sized, similarly-shaped, similarly-colored . . . umm . . . cousins. But I wish it had been a little longer. I wanted to know more of the cousins' hopes, dreams, aspirations . . . were they aware of the T.A.R.D.I.S. and its lifestyle? Did they envy it for its adventures, or pity it for its lack of a stable home to return to at the end of the day? Is their greatest wish for functional Stargate throne-covers (so to speak)? And if so, do they have the technology to permanently anchor the other gate six inches above Cheney's head, regardless of where he goes?


Liz A. Vogel: Good Badlizvogel on November 12th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Fredric Brown, we hardly knew ye . . . you should've written longer stories
It would serve you right if I actually wrote that.