Rules Are Made to Be Useful

Philip K. Dick is quoted as saying (paraphrase) “In a short story, the characters exist to serve the idea. In a novel, the plot/story exists to serve the characters.”  Ok, so yes it’s a gross oversimplification and we can all think of exceptions (with all due respect to the Good Doctor, just about anything Isaac Asimov ever wrote, at any length). And it also seems to imply that short story characters, for lack of time, interest, and emphasis, are always going to pale against characters from a novel, which is nonsense on the face of it (see Fritz Leiber or Kelly Link or Andy Duncan. ’nuff said.).

And yet there is a grain of truth there. Continue reading

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Zen and the Art of Beating Your Head Against a Wall

Subtitle: What Do You Think You’re Doing?

On another forum not too long ago, a well-known editor was expressing puzzlement. There was a very fine writer whose work he’d been promoting for years, buying their stories, featuring them prominently, doing all that was reasonable to do in an attempt to get readers to understand that this writer is worth paying attention to. And it wasn’t a complete bust by any means–the writer has done well by most standards: prolific, won several awards, publishes all over the place. Yet despite it all, they have no “career” to speak of. Sure, nearly every writer in the short-story field knows their work and most have high respect for it; if you follow the sf/f field at all in short stories, you’d recognize the name. But they have never developed the readership or name-recognition that the editor thought they deserved, and why is that?

Later in the thread the editor, in my opinion, answered his own question–it’s because the writer’s stories are too different. Not too different from what’s being published in the field; so far as I can see the sf/f field has a huge tolerance for the different, especially at short story level. Rather, the problem is that the writer’s stories are too different from each other.  Tone, theme, subject matter, you name it. Any reader could read three or four of the writer’s stories, all excellent, and never once realize that they were all written by the same person. Continue reading