Short Stories and Snobbery

I think that most writers start off with the plan to write the next great novel, a magnum opus that could easily turn into a trilogy or even a twenty novel grand epic. I know that I certainly did. In the course of my life, I’ve even completed two novel length rough drafts, though my momentum falls off when it comes time for rewrites and revisions.

Recently I’ve started scaling things back a bit, focusing on short stories. I found I prefer the instant gratification of banging out four or five drafts of a five hundred to two thousand word sprint versus the marathon trudge that is a fifty thousand word novel.

Another great thing about short stories is the contests. Some give you feedback just for entering, and there’s always a chance for prize money and publication. I’ve been hitting webspace pretty hard trying find contests that seem like a good fit. A few days ago I stumbled on one that hit a weird number of rage triggers.

The prompt was vague, but completely inoffensive. The length was standard, as was the submission process (they didn’t want anything crazy like typed manuscripts via carrier pigeon or anything like that). What set me off was just a few words from the contest description.

They open stating their commitment to the freedom of imagination, saying they aren’t too choosy on genre. They then list the three fiction genres they find acceptable, and close out with a list of six genres they don’t want, which of course includes science fiction and fantasy. Not too choosy? I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

Now, as you can tell by the vast number of stories that I’ve posted here… hmmm… nope. Well, as you can tell by what I’m about to tell you, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with sci-fi and fantasy. Asimov, Gibson, Gaiman, Shelly, Rothfuss, Dick. All great authors, all considered to be LITERATURE, but all ineligible for this contest. But they aren’t too choosy.

In a perfect world, my reaction would have been calm. I would note the restrictions on genre and either flex my writing muscles and try something new or realize the contest wasn’t for me and moved on. But those three little words kept bouncing around in my head. Not too choosy. So I did what any reasonable person would do, I stewed for a few days and wrote a blog post venting about it.

So what do you think, fine readers? Am I being too sensitive? Are these people being too exclusive? Were they just not choosy enough with their words when writing the contest description?

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2 thoughts on “Short Stories and Snobbery

  1. I have taken several creative writing courses in the past few years as an English major and not once have we been allowed to write “genre fiction.” It’s always very frustrating to me. I love fantasy! (We can be best friends simply based on Rothfuss alone.) I think the reason is (especially with short stories) that genre fiction has the tendency to need a great deal of back story and most people simply cannot pull that off within 2,000 words. I know I couldn’t. Another reason may be that the main point of your story can get lost in the fantasy. If the small details are overwhelming the main plot and themes then the literary aspect of the story is lost.

    P.S. This is the third sign today that I should start re-reading The Name of the Wind. =)

    Like

    • I’ll admit, hard sci-fi and high fantasy tend to need a level of world building that makes writing a <2k word story difficult. I'd argue that it is easier to include fantastic elements in a mostly 'realistic' setting, and established authors have the luxury of working in the worlds they already built.

      Unicorn Variations by Roger Zelazny and Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman are two examples of short story collections where the author effectively builds worlds in just a few words. That said, I know I'm nowhere near their level, and I doubt most aspiring writers are either.

      My main complaint wasn't that they limited the genre allowed, it was how they did it. I got the same feeling as if they had said "We're not too elitist, we allow yacht club members and country club members to enter our competition", but that might just be the chip on my shoulder showing.

      Re-reading Rothfuss is always a good idea. I've yet to have a read through where I don't find some new little hint or clue that played out later in the books, or that I hope will come to light once book three is in my hands.

      Liked by 1 person

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