Monday, June 11, 2012

Where have all the stories gone…

This week Kevin has chosen to share his thoughts.

This is a bit of a personal gripe about the state of the British book publishing industry, or more specifically about that section of the book buying public that regards itself as being ‘literary’.

I recently decided to try my hand at some competition writing, just short stories, anything from five hundred word flash fiction to five thousand word stories. So I set about researching the competitions – reading pieces by previous winners online where available and buying a few anthologies where they weren’t. There was definitely a pattern – the more ‘literary’ the competition regarded itself (usually equating to the amount of prize money being offered) the less I enjoyed reading the submissions. Yes, they were all ‘short’ and complied with the various word count requirements but somewhere along the way the ‘story’ element seemed to have disappeared.

Now I’m not knocking our literary tradition, which is second to none in my opinion, but all the great writers told a story. Shakespeare understood that his job was to engage with his audience and entertain them. For all his focus on poverty and his (by modern standards) wordiness so did Dickens – he gave us David Copperfield and Little Nell and Oliver Twist. My argument gets a bit shakier as we enter the twentieth century and more modern writers, but the ones who remain popular all tell proper stories. What they don’t do is perform linguistic acrobatics in the name of ‘literature’ at the expense of their story (or, in the case of some of the pieces I read, to hide their lack of story altogether).

So I’ll say again, the writer’s job is to engage and entertain his or her audience (and hopefully encourage them to part with their cash for the privilege), not to obscure and obfuscate and try and impress with linguistic pyrotechnics or gratuitous shock tactics. If I’m reading prose I want something with a story, a point. I don’t want to have to have it explained to me. If I’ve missed the message then it’s the author who has failed, not me.

End of rant :)

Oh, and some of the competition pieces I read were really good – the sad thing was that it was only some of them…

Thanks Kevin for that insight into the competition world.


  1. I totally agree with you Kevin - I want to be entertained by a story, pulled in to it and to really care about the outcome. I don't want to keep reaching for the dictionary and spend hours trying to understand what the writer is trying to convey - that doesn't count as entertainment for me!

  2. What Kevin and Jane said. :) I always look for story. And characterisation. If the author hasn't done both then I am going to lose interest pretty damn quick.