In many ways, a short story seems completely the wrong form to convey the pleasures promised by romance. Readers read romance in large part for the slow build, the push forward-pull back tension, the repeated pattern of desire escalated then frustrated, only to culminate after that frustrated desire reaches the point of explosion. In contrast, the short story is all about tightness, focus, honing in on one key scene or, in the words of its first practitioner, Edgar Allan Poe, "a certain unique or single effect."* A short story often begins at the climax, or close to it, rather than slowly building toward it as does the novel; a romance only about the climax is hardly a romance at all.
|One of my "click too often" disappointments...|
During the days of print-only books, few publishers found it profitable to publish short stories or even novellas. How could you print and bind a single story? Who would spend even a dollar to purchase a novella with a spine narrower than a pinky finger? How would such slim books be shelved in bookstores without becoming lost?
But with the advent of e-publishing, the tables have been turned. During the past year or two, both romance publishers and self-publishing authors have released a plethora of short stories and novellas, priced lower than a full-length novel but promising the same pleasures as their longer counterparts.
I'd hail the e-book revolution, and the opportunity it presents for authors to experiment with different, shorter, forms, if the resulting experimentation resulted in innovative, or even interesting, work. But far too often the short story or novella is simply a marketing gimmick, a way for a writer with an established reputation to make more money by building on her brand, churning out a bad novel, a text lacking both the novel's development and structure and the tight focus and honed theme of a true short story or novella.
|And another, both by favorite authors...|
How many writers do you know who can churn out work at such a pace and actually write stories worth reading? Yet as long as fans keep click, click, clicking away, purchasing small slivers of story that they'd never have forked over hard cash for if they could pick them up in their hands and have a physical reminder of how little they contain, the flood of underdeveloped novels will continue. Please, keep my finger away from that mouse...
Do you agree that for romance readers, the novella/short story boom is more of a bust? Or have you read and admired a short story or novella issued since the advent of the e-book revolution? Did it take into account both the different demands of their forms and still provide the satisfying romance kick of a full-length novel?
* from Poe's review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales, 1842. Qtd. in M. H. Abrams and Geoffrey Galt Harpham, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 8th ed. Boston: Thompson Higher Education, 2005.