I imagine that short stories are the most difficult form of fiction to write. I admit I haven’t encountered enough to call myself well read in the area, but I think that’s a byproduct of having encountered so many disappointing ones.
I just finished reading a Neil Gaiman anthology of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, and although at least one of his novels has a guaranteed place on my list of all time favourites I can, a few days later, only remember a few of the 30 stories found here.
Even Robert J Sawyer, from among whose books I would be hard pressed to pick even one I didn’t like, failed to impress me with an anthology of his own, Iterations. There are two that I remember today as being quite good; “If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage” for its humour and another, describing a football game but whose title I’ve forgotten, for its character and description.
Ironically, I would guess that the novel would be the easiest form of fiction. Indeed I’ve heard it said by some authors that short stories can take longer to write. It may be easy to lay out an interesting idea in a short story, but developing it to a depth that really captivates the reader is something even the best authors seem to have trouble with.
Of course, having just put a short story of my own on this site over the last week, I should mention that that story most certaintly had a only little of the former and almost none of the latter. A thought occured to me during a physics lecture—that speeds greater than light were only forbidden because it made some of the numbers imaginary (in a fuzzy and poorly thought out way, I admit)—that I thought could be used in a fantasy (not science fiction) story. I decided to spit out that story in between a few exams last month, and because I knew it was no work of art to be properly published, posted it here instead.
In a novel you spend a lot of time with characters and ideas, whether they’re well written or not, and maybe that alone makes them more memorable. Short stories really have to say something interesting to stick with you. Sawyer’s football story did that (I can still picutre it) as did, in a different way, Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain”. Ideas about ethics and humanity, which make Sawyer’s novels so good, can be a fire that burns bright and in many colours with enough air and fuel, but always seem to suffocate in such short spaces.