For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories, mostly of the speculative fiction variety. I’m researching, trying to find out what makes these stories steam along the tracks so I can put the same principles to use in my writing.
The only problem is, the more stories I read, the snobbier I get (as evidenced by the fact that I’ve written about this topic before).
I’m starting to get extremely picky about which stories I’m willing to call “good.” Lately, I’ve been sorting most of the pieces I read into the “decent” or “needs some tweaking” boxes.
Sometimes these classifications are justified, I think. I can take only so many flat characters, illogical plots, and pointless fight scenes before I get fed up and close the book. The English major in me is deathly allergic to bad and mediocre writing (unless it’s my own writing, cuz critiquing my own work is as hard as thinking up a creative metaphor).
Other times, my like or dislike of a story simply comes down to personal taste. In my old age (of not even a quarter century), I’m starting to enjoy speculative fiction that focuses more on detailed characterization and deep messages rather than pulpy sword/fist/laser-gun/werewolf action. There’s nothing wrong with the latter type of story, especially if it’s done well. It’s just not what I’m in to right now.
So where does all this leave me? Is it bad to be a story snob?
I would say yes and no.
Yes, because no one should waste their time reading a story that doesn’t pique their interest when there are hundreds of “better” books out there. Nobody has time to read all the stories in the world. (There’s a sad fact for you.) We readers, therefore, have to prioritize and sort and sift and be super picky in order to make sure we read as many awesome stories as possible before our journeys on Earth conclude.
But then, there’s always the danger of story snobs missing out on a really great book because they judged it by its cover, or read the first page and didn’t like it, or wouldn’t even try it because their annoying Aunt Busybody was the one who suggested they read it.
I don’t want to be that kind of snob.
That’s why I try to give a book a whole chapter (or two, or few) to grab me before I return it to the library. That’s why I usually finish a short story once I start it, even if it’s kind of lackluster.
I don’t want to risk missing any good stories.
Though of course, by “good,” I mean “personally appealing at the present moment.”
So, I guess it’s okay to keep being a story snob. I just have to be careful I don’t let my picky palette prevent me from scooping up and sampling all the strange but exciting new book flavors out there.
Okay, now I want ice cream.
Bonus content! Here’s a list of the short story anthologies I’ve been reading.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
I’m not very far into this book yet, but the first few stories are original and engaging enough to make me excited about the rest.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois
This is a monster of an anthology, stuffed to bursting with seemingly endless sci-fi shenanigans. Some of the stories are confusing, most of them are dark, and a few are downright great.
Writers of the Future Vol. 32 by various authors
This anthology features all the quarterly winners of the 2015/16 Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. Most of these stories produced one of three possible reactions in me: 1) eye roll (because of clichés), 2) disgusted frown (because of gory violence), 3) satisfied smile (because of interesting concept / unique characters / twist ending).
Thanks for visiting the Written Woods!