In our modern world, the written word is hardly given the sort of attention it used to have. People forget that it’s something we’ve fought and died for, something that has shaped the very nature of our society. Storytelling is a pivotal part of our culture, and while it may manifest itself in different ways here in the 21st century, it still moves, shapes, and inspires us. Stories are how we have passed on information, how we’ve entertained ourselves, and how we’ve preserved information we found worthwhile. The legacy it’s left over the years defines who we and where we’ve come from as a human race. What we learned and what we did.
I’ve had everyone from educators to everyday readers try to tell me why to read. I’ve always heard that the real reason to read good literature is to get in on some inside joke, to be able to pick up on the sly reference that’s made at a cocktail party and feel infallibly educated for it. Or just to be more intelligent, but they’re wrong. To willingly submit yourself to good literature is to humbly tip your hat to the 98 billion members of your race that have come before you and to systematically, loudly, and irrevocably decided what in the whole of human history is worth preserving and passing on. What is worth remembering. And that’s so much more important than people think.
Stories are simple enough in structure: beginning, middle, end, charter, plot, sub-plot and all the gory details. Some take over 1000 pages to get a point across. Full novels are almost lazy in how long they sometimes take to get you where they want; how many pages it takes to get their points across. An author can take volumes to express themselves and get their ideas on paper, complex or not. This is a luxury, plain and simple. It is a firm belief of mine that given enough time, anyone can write a story (whether it’s moving or worth reading is up for debate), but anyone can write a story. A short story however? A short story takes all those basic and immortal elements of a regular story and demands an almost awe-inspiring sense of brevity.
Where an epic takes a thousand pages to describe the love and life of certain characters and events, a short story must accomplish in a matter of pages. All these important elements must now be artistically condensed into a madcap collaboration, a symphony of word choice and attention to fine details. Unnecessary things like character development is thrown to the wayside and you’re asked to simply accept the world of the author as it is while he tells his tale. It’s a type of mandatory submersion unique to the art form. It demands a higher form of a personal suspension of disbelief. Accurately portraying ideas in such a confined median really separates the brilliant from the subpar, and defiantly proclaims artistic literary ability in a way nothing else ever will.
In conclusion, in the words of William Faulkner: “I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”