Can someone enlighten me, please, about short stories? Why has their popularity waned so far?
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, though possibly in the days before the internet invaded our lives, there were short story magazines galore, some catering to specialist tastes including crime, others more generally targeted; they contained a dozen or more well crafted, beautifully written small gems of fiction which warmed the heart or made you think. And for pure entertainment, there were shelves-full of women's magazines which carried two or more stories each. Then one by one the short story magazines went out of business, and the women's magazines started to focus on soap plots and real-life triumph-over-tragedy stories. The market for short stories shrank, which seems to imply that the demand for them had done likewise. Nowadays the main market for short stories is competitions. It's always been there; I've even organized and judged a few myself over the years. But more recently, as the magazine side has faded, competitions seem to have raised their profile.
I do have one theory about why people don't want to read them any more, and it's not just because they'd rather play Angry Birds or Candy Crush on their phones. I think the downward slope began when television soaps kicked in. A four or five thousand word short story takes about half an hour to read: exactly the length of Coronation Street/EastEnders/Emmerdale/insert American or other soap of choice. It's a lot less effort when you come in after a day at work to kick off your shoes, collapse in a comfy armchair and point the remote at the TV for something familiar than to remember where you left the book or magazine, find your glasses and start getting involved in the lives of a whole new set of characters.
People still love to write them. A novel makes huge demands on an aspiring writer's time, and not everyone has the staying power to develop a few thousand words into a few hundred pages, especially when real life makes even more huge demands. A dozen or so pages in which the action is begun, developed and brought to a satisfying conclusion is a lot more achievable. I used to do it myself; time was when one of my short stories appeared in print every month or so. Those days are gone now; that particular muse took a hike when other things began to fill my time.
In the interests of keeping the genre alive for a while longer, because I think it's worth saving, let me ask a question. Is it possible to create a viable piece of crime fiction in three thousand words or less? And if so, is it also possible to include that essential ingredient of 99.9% of crime novels, the murder and its detection? Or is it too big an ask to set the scene, create a handful of suspects, turn the cop or other sleuth into a real human being and solve the mystery in such a short space?
Any thoughts out there?