Short stories – Interlude.

I’m breaking into my mini series on the inspiration for the stories in my new collection Dust Blowing and other Stories  to consider an issue that was raised by one of the first two reviews I received on Amazon UK. The reviewer called the stories ‘compellingly melancholic’.

Now I don’t consider myself melancholic at all, in fact I’m definitely a ‘glass half full’ person (unlike my OH).

But looking at the stories in my collection I have to admit that even if I wouldn’t describe them as exactly melancholic the balance is undoubtedly towards the sad end of the spectrum. So the big question – are my short stories more likely to be sad than happy? And if so, why.

I’ve done a quick trawl both through stories I’ve already written, plus the ideas that I have filed away for possible use at some later stage, and that has thrown up some interesting statistics. (Interesting to me, anyway.)

  1. When I first started writing short stories – way back in my school days – they tended to have a positive  (in some sense) ending.
  2. When I decided I’d have a go at writing for Women’s magazines – lulled into false optimism that it would be an easy market to sell stuff in – I tried to write happy endings. (It clearly wasn’t the right market for me, I only sold one story, the rest were wall-to-wall rejections.) I was pleased in a way – not at the loss of all those potentially lovely cheques heading my direction (magazines do pay quite well – I’d have to sell 200 books on the royalties  I received from my traditional publisher on my first novel to equal 1 published short story – and lest you think I had a bad deal from the publisher, they were paying me the industry standard rate), but at the reasons I was given when I received a personal rejection rather than a standard ‘form’ rejection slips.  They were phrased differently, but the general message was the same – my stories were ‘too literary’ to meet the needs of the magazines in question. Apparently my writing would ‘stretch their readership’ – definitely a back-handed compliment – or so I chose to take it. I also decided not to waste my or anyone else’s time by trying for that market again.(As an aside, I received very similar feedback from several agents when I was sending out my first novel – one agent commenting ‘My writing was rather more literary and demanded something from the reader’ – which didn’t fit with what they normally sold, so they turned me down. On balance I’m very happy to ‘demand something from the reader’)
  3. When I allow my imagination free rein I am forced to admit that in my short stories happy endings don’t feature strongly, though there is one story in the collection that I’d categorise as just a ‘nice’ story. It’s not what I’d consider my best story though: the two that I’m most proud of are, more than anything, thought-provoking and moving, at least that’s what I intended when I wrote them.


So what have I  learned from all this navel-gazing?

Yes, I mostly write sad (ish) stories, at the literary end of the spectrum, so I shall probably never make my fortune from them… 🙂

As for the ‘why’ – I think it’s much easier to write a powerful ‘sad’ story than a powerful ‘happy’ one. And I have an almost pathological fear of producing any writing that could be considered as ‘twee’.

Question is, am I unusual in this, or is this phenomenon more widespread? I’d be interested to hear other folks’ opinions.

It certainly seems (from my successes) that for competitions (or at least the ones I target) a literary feel is more appropriate.

As to whether my stories are ‘melancholic’  I shall leave that to the reader to determine…