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Theory of Story

Expanding the Short Story Format

When it comes to short stories, I sometimes have a hard time seeing past the physical presence of the words on the page. It often takes me a while to get into the world of a story, and by the time I do, the short story is over. This is why I (and many readers), prefer novels. Reading short stories can be like exercising for just ten minutes. Half the time, it takes me ten minutes just to warm up!

Perhaps this is a psychological problem for me to resolve, but maybe there’s another approach. What if the short story format was more visually rewarding or otherwise engaging? Would I and others find them more appealing in this case, more worth the cognitive effort?

Redesigning Short Stories

I think big walls of text are unattractive, which is hilarious for a writer to say, but you probably agree. After all, that is why am I adding a header above, or adding lists, or color blocking, or making typographical decisions.

Essentially, what if more short stories looked more like blogs?

Writing a good short story is hard enough, with relatively little (financial) payoff, so formatting or adding graphic design is a further challenge and barrier to entry. But I think it might actually make the short story format more enticing to a larger audience.

Of course, blogs and stories are often quite different. Headers and such are there to enhance skimming, which is not something you tend to want for short stories. Weird typography could easily be very distracting in a short story. Done well, design often both blends into the background and rewards scrutiny. But done well is no small task.

All these qualms aside, it’s a prospect that excites me.

Projects that have Expanded the Short Story Format

I am sure what I am describing has been done many times. To some extent, poetry is the extreme of what I am suggesting, but I am imagining prose, not verse. Comics or graphic stories are another version, though they tend to be more visual than what I’m picturing. Novels such as House of Leaves have explored this space (as discussed in this lovely article on disturbing the text.) But in some cases this is more extreme than what I am imagining.

Closer to my vision is a lot of longform journalism, great non-fiction storytelling punctuated by images, block quotes, and other elements that complement the text. Journalists rarely experiments with challenging typography, just solid design that feels good to read.

Feeling good to read and look at. That’s what I want out of more short stories. Most fiction writers want the page to disappear, but I want it to cushion your eyes and jump out at you at the same time. Is this something you are interesting in, or does this sound like a narrative gimmick?

By Ryder

I am a writer, furniture designer and a musician. I enjoy synthesizing information because it helps me (and hopefully others) understand subjects in a systematic way.

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