Why Short Stories are Rejected

Found this interesting list (via Bookslut) of why short stories are rejected.

While the list itself is tongue-in-cheek, I find myself annoyed more and more by the “show don’t tell” advice. It crops up here in number 20 on the list.

20. Summation. “All in the past” syndrome. This is a problem sometimes characterised as “undepicted action” or “telling instead of showing.” Most writers seem to have a grasp of the need to get attention at the beginning, but an astonishing number by the middle of page two have started to tell us all about some ancient family history. All sense of immediacy and story is lost and instead we’re having summaries of complex events that happened, one sentence each, like a dry and tedious history book.

While great short stories are often great simply because of their use of full scenes (sometimes the whole story), I can think of several short story writers — Andre Dubus, John Cheever — who use summary so effectively, and almost exclusively in some stories, that it blows apart the “show don’t tell” mantra. Sometimes good stories function best when they’re told and not shown, and writers need to consider when to show and when to tell. Not every action or scene has to be depicted.


One thought on “Why Short Stories are Rejected

  1. F— the rules. The great ones break ’em, anyway. Look at Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Vincent Van Gogh. They’re now considered geniuses, and at the time no one thought what they did was “art.” I’m getting bored reading the whole article, but I love the way the author begins by comparing their oh-so-wonderful contest to American Idol, one of the biggest pieces of hackwork in our culture today. Two words: Jennifer Hudson. Two more: The Beatles. Were turned down by every label they auditioned for. Do you really think the great ones win their special little contests? Do you think Bob Dylan could win American Idol?

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