In this modern age where everybody is on their phones, tablets and e-readers, the accessibility of material to read, often for free, is more widespread than ever. Anybody, even with holes in their pockets, has a smartphone of some sort these days. But are people really reading? And more to the point, what are people really reading?
Poetry is the more obvious choice for ease of reading. For a start, most poems online tend to be short. It takes less than thirty seconds to read one poem and less than ten if you’re skimming. But poetry isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea.
In the other end of the spectrum are novels. A good novel takes a lot of commitment on the part of the reader. The author has to get you hooked and keep the pages turning. A reader-author relationship takes trust. Trust that as a paying customer and a reader, a book is going to be worth it.
So what about shorter fiction?
As a writer and a magazine editor myself, I have noticed, both with my own work and that of others how an audience will readily engage with flash fiction (stories of under 1000 words). I can see why. The appeal of flash stories can be laid out in a few points:
- There is no commitment; you’re reading a bite-sized morsel that can be digested in one go. In this day and age of modern technology and ever decreasing online attention spans, a quickie read is perfect.
- Flash fiction, unlike short stories, does not necessarily require a plot. How could it? Blink and you would miss it anyway.
- Some people like to read vignettes. A character sketch, or a quick slice-o-life moment can be entertaining in its own right. Flash fiction can get away with being a ‘sketch’ rather than a fully developed, plot-driven story.
Short stories take more commitment. They require a beginning, middle and an end. They need a resolution. If the reader has committed half an hour of their attention, they want to be entertained and want the story resolved at the end as a reward for their readership. Could this be the reason why many online short story only magazines are closing? Is commitment more worth it in a printed magazine? Reading a physical, printed copy is as much about the experience as it is about the story; the smell of the paperback in your hands, the sound of the pages as you turn them and the feel of the shiny cover helps the words to absorb into your brain. But a story online has its perks too. No having to wait for the magazine to be delivered to your house; you have instant gratification right there on your screen. What’s my advice? It’s only half an hour of your life. Give that short story a go and you’ll not only make a writer happy when they see the stats bar jump on their blog, you’ll be keeping alive another literary art form. Happy reading!