Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

When To Stop Reading, Part 3: Short Stories

Frustrated-Man-thumb

A multi-part series where I address the question, When to stop reading?

This is part 3 in what's become an ongoing series on when to stop reading a book. Each post stands alone, but feel free to read part 1 and part 2 before jumping into this one.

We often think of only novels when someone poses the question,

"At one point do you give up on a book?"

Maybe the question is better phrased as:

"At one point do you give up on a story?"

Short stories, whether standalone or as part of a compilation, fall into the 'when to stop reading' conundrum just like novels. Especially those which infringe into the length territory of novelettes. The further we get, and the more our frustration grows, the more likely we're going to put (or throw) that book down.

For purposes of this discussion, I'm going to use an example: The Solaris Book of New Fantasy. TSBONF is a compilation of shorts by such notable authors as Mark Chadbourn, Janny Wurts, Jeff VanderMeer, Chris Roberson, Lucius Shepherd, Steven Erikson, and others. I just finished the book, so I'm at a good point to discuss it's highs and lows. In particular, there were stories I stopped reading simply because they were going nowhere or just weren't holding my attention.

Some people say you have thirteen lines in which to hook the reader of a short story. I found this to be more or less true as more often than not I knew just by looking at that first page whether or not the story was going to hold my attention. It's not a hard and fast rule, of course, but it's often easy to get a good feel for what the story is about and if it's your cup of tea.

In the following list I'm going to use some clever graphics to indicate whether or not I finished the story. "Thumbs up" means I finished. "Thumbs down" means I flipped through the remainder of that story and went on to the next one.

1. "Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Beast", by Mark Chadbourne

thumbsup

2. "Reins of Destiny", by Janny Wurts

thumbsdown

3. Tornado of Sparks, by James Maxey

thumbsup

4. Grander the the Sea, by T.A. Pratt

thumbsup

5. The Prince of End Times, by Hal Duncan

thumbsdown

6. King Tales, by Jeff VanderMeer

thumbsup

7. In Between Dreams, by Christopher Barzak

thumbsdown

8. And Such Small Deer, by Chris Roberson

thumbsup

9. The Wizard's Coming, by Juliet E. McKenna

thumbsup

10. Shell Game, by Mike Resnick

thumbsup

11. The Song Her Heart Sang, by Steven Savile

thumbsdown

12. A Man Falls, by Jay Lake

thumbsup

13. O Caritas, by Conrad Williams

thumbsdown

14. Lt. Privet's Love Song, by Scott Thomas

thumbsup

15. Chinandega, Lucius Shepherd

thumbsup

16. Quashie Trapp Blacklight, by Steven Erikson

thumbsdown

A quick tally shows that I finished ten out of the sixteen stories in TSBONF, or 62.5%. Six stories remained unfinished, or 37.5%.

I don't know what ratio indicates I didn't waste my money. I read ten stories, most of which I enjoyed. I remember a couple leaving me a little dissatisfied, but nothing like the sheer "WTF is this about?" I thought as I skipped through the six stories I did not finish.

For me, this is a lesson. Not only in what I like to read, but also what elements keep someone from putting a book down. I can only attempt to instill such elements into my own writing.

As always, I'll end with a question: What makes you put a book down?



Comments (3) -

  • Pam Phillips

    7/31/2008 5:50:58 AM | Reply

    For me, so many short works fail to get me to turn the first page, I am much more willing to finish what I start. Even in the cases where a promising beginning delivers tedium, and you're sighing and squirming and flipping through the pages to see how much more you must endure, I've usually made it more than halfway and I finish it.

    I'm curious: just how far did you get in the ones you didn't finish?

  • scottmarlowe

    7/31/2008 6:51:01 AM | Reply

    Hi Pam,

    How far I got with each story (of course) varied. With some, it was a few pages (#2 & #16 above). Others it was 1-2 pages (#11, 13). Some of that was based on past experience with authors. Janny Wurts, for example, I'd read before and I remember just not getting into whatever it was (can't even remember what I'd read by her). Others, like Erikson's story, I really wanted to read through, but the story went off on some strange tangent, so that was it for me.

  • Pam Phillips

    7/31/2008 4:20:13 PM | Reply

    So basically, within the first few pages you know. Interesting.

    Speaking of strange tangents, what's with the goofy icon? I have a gravatar.

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