A Good Story is a Good Story...

Commentary by Cherie Jung

7 August, 1997

Most readers cans easily pick out a bad story. Poor writing, mistakes converting fact to fiction, rehashing old plot lines without a fresh approach...that sort of thing alienates a reader rather quickly.

On the other hand, finding a good story isn't always easy.

A seemingly well written story may start off enticing the reader only to fizzle half way through. Or an otherwise exciting story may end abruptly when the author tosses in a "twist" ending that isn't as clever to the reader as the author thought it would be.

Are there so many writers writing badly that editors are forced to publish their work just to fill space?

I'm not sure what the polite answer to that question would be. I suspect there are two or more things going on in the publishing of short fiction that contribute to the lack of good stories being published. Let's make that three things, at least. We'll spread the blame out between publisher, writers, and readers.

Many publishers seem to operate under the assumption that not only will short fiction not sell, that booksellers don't even want it taking up valuable space on their shelves. (Hmmm. Maybe we need to expand the list of culprits to include booksellers?) A second assumption is that only famous, bestselling novelists who crank out short stories will be able to attract the attention of readers. Now, I'm not saying that a bestselling novelist can't or shouldn't write short fiction. I'm just saying that some of them who do, do not necessarily write good or great short fiction.

Writing short fiction isn't easy.

In writing short fiction, there are some rules. Some of those rules can be broken, if the writer knows what he/she is doing. Lately, I've been reading some stories where the author has broken the rules, but I suspect, only because he/she was unaware of the rule(s) in the first place. This is just plain sloppy writing. It will not attract loyal readers.

At any given time, several -- make that a few -- small press publications will be printing short stories. The life span of many a small press is so short that by the time it develops a following, it has collapsed from lack of funding. Nevertheless, many of these small presses are printing exciting, well-written stories by writers (both famous and novice) who have successfully tackled the art of short story writing and delivered exceptional stories.

This is where the reader enters the picture. As a reader, we may enjoy a story and mention it to a friend or two, but do we do all we can to make certain that this story receives a wider audience? Do we do all we can to make the booksellers and larger publishing companies understand what we do and do not want to read?

My favorite kind of short story would be called a "cross-over" short story. While I like a good mystery, I also like a story with an edge. So here at OMDB! when we look at a story, we don't dismiss it if it has a slight romantic tone, or a touch of horror, or a bit of science fiction. Nor do our stories have to have happy endings. The good guys don't always win...

I look for a story that I can read and then re-read again. For me, "whodunit" isn't the most important aspect of a story. I want to read a story where the writer develops a world and invites me in for the duration of the story. A story where there are characters for me to meet and know, love or hate. Each story needs a lasting quality.

Among my favorites published in OMDB!, there is one story that seems to imply an alien from outer space is about to abduct a young girl. As the story unfolds, the shocking turn of events has a purely down-to-earth resolution. No aliens. But the story is so well told that even today, as I read it, I find myself enjoying it again, as if for the first time.

In another story, a group of children are playing in a swampy area near their home where they stumble upon the decaying corpse of a woman. This seemingly ordinary event takes a strange turn when we discover that the dead woman is an alien from outer space. Still the story stands on its own as a mystery story, with a twist. And it is a pleasure to read it, time and time again.

You may not like the same kind of short story that I enjoy, yet, there is something about short stories -- good short stories -- that should reach out to the reader and draw them in to the story being told. And when the reading is finished, a sense of, "I'll have to read that one again, sometime" should hang in the reader's memory until that time that the reader returns to the story.

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