Is Short Fiction Pointless?

I hope you're angry! Or pleased! Because this is a thought that has been on my mind for a few years, and one that I would love to throw out there and discuss. Don't get me wrong, I love short stories. One of my all-time favourite writers is known as one of the best writers of short fiction ever - Anton Chekhov. But even so, there are still times when I honestly do feel like short stories are slightly pointless. Or at the very least, leave me expecting more. And this applies to the ones I love too. I'm not trying to prove a point or persuade you to pick a side. Rather, I would like to explore this idea with you as it has re-entered my mind in recent days, having picked up my copy of Chekhov's short stories, once again.

Beginning with the positives, why do I like short stories? Well, for starters, they're short! You never have to worry about setting aside a good hour or two purely for reading. You can read them at your leisure. They're typically concise in their language, seldom delivering extensive detail, but providing just enough to maintain the feel of a novel. They waste no time jumping into their respective tales and themes, resulting in us as the reader knowing exactly what we're getting into from the start. Whatever emotion or atmosphere they intend to spark - comedic, dramatic, reflective, mysterious, suspenseful - we experience it in a flash. Which is, in essence, what I see a short story being. A flash. A scene within a longer story. A snippet of the big picture. We can experience the powerful feels of epic stories and grandiose novels in a 5-10 minute read. It's quite impressive when you think about it, and quite satisfying after you end your brief adventure. These being the positives.

Now to my criticism, and note that it takes the singular form. My problem with short fiction lies with its successes that I mentioned above. Every time I finish a short story that I've enjoyed, my consistent thought is, "that's it?" They leave me wanting to read more, which is a great thing! And the sign of a good piece, but I always feel that the story in question could have been a great novel, let's say. Or even a novella. In short, no pun intended, I continuously find that these stories can, but most importantly, ought to be expanded upon. Especially, when it comes to their characters.

Example: Anton Chekhov's The Death of a Clerk. This is one of my favourites and leaves me with the desire, mentioned above, of having the story expanded/extended for the sake of learning more about its characters. Some quick info for context, my copy of this story is roughly 3 pages in length, and in case you don't read it via the link, it's about the death of a clerk due to his shame of sneezing on a superior's head. It's a quick, fun read, and the feeling of shame and anxiety felt by the clerk concerning his actions around a higher authority is one that can be understood by many. But after reading it, I honestly wished that it was longer. I wanted to learn more about the clerk, about his day-to-day life, his relationships with others and how he behaves with different people. I guess the best way to summarize the emotion on my part, is that, as much as I loved this little story, it felt incomplete. I was not as invested as I would have been while reading a novel. Which leads to our original question: is short fiction pointless? Or to refine our guiding question: is short fiction lesser than standard fiction? Should it/Can it be held in the same respect as longer form narrative fiction?

Now again, I'm in no way trying to be condescending towards short fiction, I just honestly have these thoughts. If a story is shorter and more difficult to invest yourself in, I don't if it can be held in the same regard as a longer counterpart. Part of partaking in a story is the personal, emotional investment of the experience the story provides. Can the 3 page The Death of a Clerk reach that criteria in comparison to Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea? I would say no. I love both stories, but the investment in The Old Man and the Sea I find to be more legitimate than in that of The Death of a Clerk, simply because I have spent more time with Hemingway's characters. I've spent more time watching them grow, interact, and face the world around them, resulting in a greater literary venture on my part.

Although I generally feel this way when comparing short stories and novels, I also see, and have experienced, the hole in my take on the topic. I've read books that I've hated and will automatically rank lower than something short like The Death of a Clerk, based on both quality and experience. This reality challenges my initial thoughts. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you like. We all know that. But for the sake of discussion, is short fiction of the same caliber as longer fictional pieces? Should short stories be considered in the same league of quality and experience as novels? I do not know, but do have some thoughts as you know and have heard... But I also look forward to hearing from you! Where do you stand on this topic?

Kind Regards,

Menelaos Lourotos

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