The Rise of Short Stories

Hello SE friends, Gwen with you today, and I’m going to share a discovery.

Over the holidays, I read several novelettes and novellas. They were perfect for my busy pre-Christmas activities. I downloaded six or more of these books and when I found an hour or two, I’d escape into a lovely romance, an adventure, or a bewitching mystery. Because of the brevity of the read, these books were perfect for drawing me into the holiday spirit. Instead of just worrying about my busy to-do list, I could dream.

Most of the books I read in December had a Christmas theme. I suspect you might have read several as well. Novelettes and novellas were everywhere present and this realization got me wondering. Could it be that these shorter stories are growing in popularity?

We are all multi-taskers. Technology helps us leap from one blog to another, from recipes to medical treatments, from breaking news to the weather update. We’re savvy folks but if you are like me, there’s never enough time in the day. I look back to my pre-retired life and wonder how I accomplished what I did. But just last week, while strolling through internet pages, I may have discovered the answer to my question.

As part of my reading, I stumbled upon a bewildering statement. It claimed that the rise of technology gadgets had led to attention spans less than that of a goldfish. A crazy statement, right? Well, I couldn’t let such a claim stand without some investigation. I searched for the source and discovered this quote by Time Magazine:

The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds

photo from Canva

Are you surprised? I was. If they had mentioned a chimpanzee or a great ape, I could have accepted the comparison. But a goldfish? This was too much. I had to know more.

I went to Microsoft’s site, dug around a bit, and found their research. It turns out they used electroencephalograms to measure the attention span of their participants. Based on what they recorded and witnessed, they asserted that our collective attention span has dropped since the year 2000 when technology took center stage.

Now back to short stories (anthologies, novellas, and novelettes). Though full-length books dominate in sales, short stories are steadily increasing in popularity and this phenomenon is expected to climb. Could it be that Microsoft is on to something?

It’s undeniable that the digital world has changed our lives. If we can accept the goldfish analogy, short stories have a special seat at the table. A well-written novelette is fast-paced and concise. It can capture a reader in just one sitting and may motivate him or her to reach for more. Its brevity is its strength.

As much as the internet distracts and exhausts us, it has broadened the reading world. People like me will pick up a novelette especially during busy times because we know we can read it before shutting off the lights. For working folks, the story might be the perfect companion over lunch or while riding public transportation. And, who knows, it might so grab the reader’s attention that he or she will want to check out the author’s full-length novels.

photo from Canva

My reading choices in December opened my eyes to the value and importance of short books. Twenty-five pages or two hundred and twenty-five pages, each has an important readership. Whether it be whim or circumstance, readers choose to dive deep or dance with the goldfish.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you published a novelette or novella? I’d love to hear about your experience. Won’t you share? After my Christmas excursion, I’ve become a believer.

That’s all for me today. I look forward to chatting with you next month. Till then, stay warm my friends.

103 thoughts on “The Rise of Short Stories

  1. I was talking to a writing agent about this (not MY agent, mind you; just a friend who is an agent). He focused on the attention span of readers, but I pointed out that, even though I love epic novels, when I am reading from my tablet, I read for a much shorter span of time. I think this is because, at least for me, the physical motion of turning the page and feeling the progress I’m making in the story encourages me to keep reading. I get none of this psychological encouragement when I read in digital format. This (might?) have something to do with the rise of the novelette / novella.

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    • Very good point, Syndal, thank you. I believe you’re on to something. When I read nonfiction (especially those books related to health or spirituality), I always choose paperback. I like to read them more slowly, and sometimes return to what I’ve read before. And, you are right about the physical motion of turning the page. Thank you for pointing that out. 😊

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  2. Pingback: The Rise of Short Stories – Nelsapy

  3. Good post Gwen. I find your blog very informative and you are right. Technology has changed our daily habits. Research shows that 71% of us check Facebook or other social media networks before we go to sleep.

    Technology is the future and it will be for some time as long as COVID is still active 😷

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting and adding to the conversation, Mthobisi. You make a good point, social media seems to be integral to our lives.

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  4. As a Magazine editor, I have always been aware of the value of a well told, short story. Over the years I have published many anthologies and volumes of short tales as well as novellas. Some sell whilst others gather dust on library shelves; rarely read. I have noticed a slight but steady increase in Magazine sales over the last year when circulation had suffered a steady decline during the decade before. I suspect this is (perhaps) for the reasons you describe but it may be readers have more time during lockdowns. I hope, for the sake of our publications and authors, that this trend continues but reserve judgment for the moment.

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    • Thank you for sharing, Ray. Over this past year, I’ve come to respect and enjoy a well-constructed short story. It’s a special skill to tell a story concisely and effectively, and I don’t know that I have that skill. That said, I want to give it a try. All the best…

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  6. While I knew our attention spans have reduced dramatically, I would not have thought to less than a goldfish! I know that I have become prone to choosing shorter books. They take me so long to read now. I become overwhelmed when I see a book has 500+ pages – something that never phased me before. I know we easily read a novel per day between the blogs and articles and things for work or whatnot.
    I have started to assign time every day to read – and not just before bed. A book. Turn off the computer and the TV and pick up a book. How crazy is it that it is the only way I can increase my reading of other than articles?

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    • Thank you, Dale. When I look back over the years, I realize that I never looked at page count or word count until recently. Time isn’t what it was and I suspect technology is at the heart of why it’s not. I need to do what you do — turn off the computer and escape into a quiet room. Thank you again! 😊

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      • I never did, either. Shogun at 1210 pages did not phase me one bit. The timing was great as I had 1.5 hour commute each way and it took me a mere 3 weeks to read it (which, for me, was fabulous). I blame technology and blogging. My goodness, the time spent blogging is mind-boggling!
        I need to retire. I have no time to waste on this work business… 😉

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  7. Nice post! I agree that short stories and novellas are more popular than ever. Flash fiction for lunchtime reads is a favorite of mine. It’s so much fun to explore new writers and different genres of fiction without committing to a full length novel. I also find that writing short fiction offers a wide range of options. I love ghost stories and blog, write, and read them all the time. Fairy tales are my new interest and so much fun that it motivated me to write a short fairy tale myself.

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    • Thank you so much, Paula. I’ve not written short fiction but I’m determined to give it a try. The vast landscape of shorter reads intrigues me, as does your experience. Thank you again. 😊

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  8. Wonderful observations, Gwen. And quite thought-provoking. I’ve always loved the short form story. My first written works were short stories. I enjoy writing them as much as reading them. I do believe we’re seeing a decrease in our collective attention spans. I see it in myself. But I still enjoy opening a novel and falling into other worlds filled with wonderful characters. I just need to find more time.

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    • You are a master storyteller, Beem, and your short stories are stunning. Of course, your longer fiction is as well. 😊 But to your point, I think many of us struggle with time limitations and often choose accordingly.

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  9. This is a thought-provoking post, Gwen. Are were reading more short stories and novella because of the distraction of technology or is our attention span getting shorter? To be, it’s both! Technology is progressing at such a speed that we get instant gratification. We may want to see the conclusion of a story with a similar expectation. My attention span gets shorter as I aged, that I admit. When I pay attention to the issue of writing short stories, I discovered that Stephen King wrote 200 short stories. He then combined some short stories to make movies. Thank you for this article, Gwen.

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    • Thank you, Miriam, for sharing as you have. I didn’t know that Stephen King wrote short stories, and 200 is amazing. I can’t even imagine unless we include blogs. 😊

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  10. I agree Gwen. I to enjoy reading shorter reads, especially when time doesn’t allow for longer reads. With so much digital distraction, it’s no surprise so many are attracted to shorter reads. 🙂

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  11. I fully agree with Robbie’s comment. There was a change in the way people are able to stay with a book. Within a daily busy life, and the wish to get fast entertained short stories are a very great solution. Otherwise most times they are only a kind of snack, and a good novel cant be reached by them. Thanks for mentioning the topic, Gwen! Best wishes, Michael

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  12. Hi Gwen, thank you for this article. I do think novellas and short stories are popular. My view is that short stories are popular because people have busy lives and limited time. I think with some people, concentration span and interest may be the problem, but my further thought is that people with such short concentration spans are likely to stick with YT videos and sitcoms in the first place and skip reading entirely. I am currently reading War and Peace so I do not have a short concentration span but there are times when I am very stressed at work when I find it easier to read simpler stories. When my babies were young, I also chose easier story lines to read. I was to tired to read heavy literature.

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  14. Great post, Gwen. (Sorry I’m late responding, but it wasn’t for lack of interest!) I wrote my first book 8 years ago, and it was a bucket list thing, so I threw everything into it I’d ever wanted to write about. It was a LONG book, and set the precedent for my novels, none of which are under 350 pages. (Blush.) But I’m of the opinion it takes what it takes to tell the tale. Having said that, I love novellas, too. I read both. And when I got the idea for a series of spinoff novellas (The Emissary tales), I discovered that writing a novella is infinitely quicker and easier. So much so, that I’m getting ready to do another spinoff series of them. I can’t say they’ve sold anymore than my longer books, but they are truly enjoyable to write. I’m thinking that my currently-shelved Riverbend novel might be my last, in order to allow me to have some fun with quicker, easier projects. But I’m a wordy person, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to restrain myself. We’ll see, I guess.

    BTW, I think even at my advanced age, and dealing with COVID-brain, my attention span is longer than that of a goldfish. I’m figuring I’m up there with mammals, at least. Maybe a squirrel. They can remain focused on how to reach the bird feeder tray for hours at a time. Hmmm. Okay, maybe not a squirrel. But at least a rabbit! 😁

    Interesting post, my friend! 😊❤

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    • You are so funny, Marcia. 😂 A rabbit? I’m not sure what I’d compare myself to, but I sure like watching the birds soar. I’m looking forward to diving back into some of your books. You’re a wonderful writer (and I’m a slow reader), and it’s time for me to delight in your books. Thank you for commenting, always a joy. 💗

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      • I’ve always felt that one of my jobs in this world was to provide a bit of Comic Relief. Sometimes it actually works! 😄 Thank you so much for the lovely compliments, and I do hope you’ll enjoy reading some of my books when time allows. Oh, and put me down for some of those soaring birds, too. Won’t be long before the swallow-tailed kites start arriving for their summer nesting rituals. Can’t wait! 😊

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  16. I went to college and grad school to learn how to write short stories. I didn’t know they’d fallen! (I’m being a little facetious. I know they’re not as popular as novels.) I’ve been subscrbing to One Story for years. It’s a print literary magazine that comes out monthly with one story of not more than 8,000 words. For people interested in reading short stories, there are thousands of online magazines with short stories you can read for free in every genre you can imagine. The short fiction can range in length from micro to novella.

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  17. The only things I’ve published are short stories and a novelette. Coming out in a few months: a novella. I have a novel WIP, but it’s on the shorter side, 60k-ish. I don’t ever see myself writing one of those epic fantasy 180k stories. I do believe our attention spans are getting shorter. Kudos to those who read the big epic fantasies, but I think a bigger audience lies in wait for shorter reads.

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    • I think you’re right, Priscilla. I suspect more and more readers will choose shorter reads. Most of us struggle with finding the time to read, making the novelette or novellas even more attractive. Thank you for offering your insights. 😊

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  18. Thanks so much for your observations!
    This was exactly my rationale for the book I’m working on, which will be an anthology series of easily digestible poems, short stories, etc., and some art to keep the readers’ attention.
    In fact the first “instance” of my book (not yet posted here on WP, but will be in the final publication) discusses the very idea that you are describing here – there are many people who simply don’t read books anymore – and they opt in for platforms such as Blinkist, which digests entire books for them in 10 minutes rather than going through the trouble of reading the book itself.
    But I truly do think that people WANT to see content – they want to learn and discover, they want something different and exciting and meaningful in every story, but prefer it to be in bite sized formats.
    Thanks again for sharing!

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    • Thank you, Ahka. Our reading choices have expanded notably with the rise of short stories, just as you’ve explained. All the best on your upcoming publication! 😊

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  19. A really interesting article, thanks Gwen. My Dad had a library full of books with lots of anthologies, but I didnt take to them, I can’t put my finger on the reason why. Today I see how special a short story can be to fit into busy lives. Thanks for the research on our attention span. It makes a lot of sense. I tend to get distracted quickly and hop from one thing to another!

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  20. For me, it’s more a matter of time. I’ve been working to etch out a couple of hours of reading a day, but it’s not always possible. That’s when short stories/novellas are wonderful. I still get my reading fix, but in half the time. It’s a win-win!

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    • Thank you, Jacquie, for joining the conversation. For many, if not most, time is elusive at best. It’s wonderful to have so many choices to fit just the right circumstance. It’s definitely a “win-win.” 😊

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  21. Excellent article, Gwen! I read novels, non-fiction, collections, novellas and short stories. Usually have a short story or collection for nighttime and larger works (print books preferred) during daytime. It works for me… Grabbing my attention in the beginning is always a given. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thank you, dear Bette. My schedule is much like yours. 💗 In the evening, I usually read short stories or novellas. If I retire early, then I’ll choose a novel or a non-fiction read.

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  22. I used to hate short stories because I felt that it was over too quickly, and I always wanted more. I also think I read some short stories where the author moved too quickly or tried to add too much, which made it feel rushed. Lately, I’ve come to love short stories. Maybe, the authors I’m reading now have mastered the art of telling a concise but complete story. I’ve also written a short story and a novella and have gotten great reviews for them. At first, it was a struggle because I was used to writing a series, but I’m starting to enjoy writing shorter stories. I think there is a place for all of it. Great post, Gwen! 🙂

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  23. I’m a big fan now of shorter stories. There are times when I want to read a story in one setting and not lose sleep doing it. There are times I want to stay in a story for a while and choose a full length novel. It’s great to have that option. I agree the attention span has decreased for most, especially with so much information in our hands.I will have to see if my goldfish has a short attention span. Her attention seems longer when related to food. Great post, Gwen:)

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    • Thank you, Denise. I’d love to hear what your findings are with your goldfish. 😃 I suspect Microsoft is right, at least I know I’m more scattered than I was before. Your point about the availability of information is right on target. I’m forever checking on this point or another, even pausing midsentence to do some research. Thank you!

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  24. A thought provoking post Gwen and I move between longer novels and novellas and short story collections to read. Certainly right now I seem to be in short story mode and find that is easier to focus on in the last couple of years with everything that is going on. I think that may also have something to do with their increasing appeal. I also think for some readers who may have got out of the habit of picking up a book when working, looking after a family, it is a great segway back into reading novels.. great post thank you ♥

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  25. I’m not sure I agree with the research. When I first started writing, I sold a lot of short stories because there were lots of markets for them. Redbook and Good Housekeeping magazines had a short story almost every month. There were lots of anthologies and magazines. But slowly and surely, the markets started disappearing. Everyone wanted longer stories, longer books. I’ve always enjoyed variety–a little bit of short and long. I’m glad the shorter fiction’s coming back. And people might have plenty of things to distract them these days, but when they want to concentrate, they seem to do a good job of it. The difference is, there are more things to choose from, so if they start something and it doesn’t hold their interest, they can go to something else. Scientists have predicted our doom for a long time, and I value their research, but I think people are usually smarter and more resilient than they give us credit for.

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    • Thank you so much, Judi. I hope their research is flawed. When I write, I need silence. Even a truck going past my home disrupts my thinking. Add to that sound, the phone, the doorbell, the TV shows my husband is watching, and more than anything else, my own curiosity that prompts internet searches. I’m so impressed by disciplined writers who ignore all such distractions and simply write. 😊

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  26. I’ve always tried to offer something for everyone. I recently concluded my first full length trilogy, but the shorter stuff seems to outsell it, even though it’s older. It may have been dumb luck that my ongoing series consists of short novels, but I’ll always take luck. I would like to get back to another collection of short stories in the next few years.

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    • I think you’re on the right track, Craig. From my limited research, shorter books and short stories are moving up in popularity and sales. Thank you for sharing your experience. Much appreciated. 😊

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  27. Your article is fantastic, Gwen, but that study? It kind of blows my mind. At the same time, though, I can see the truth there. Now as for the short stories, I 100% agree with you. They’ve definitely become more popular and not just for the readers. As writers, it’s often easier to create a short writing as opposed to a lengthy novel. Especially as a newbie to the publishing world! I feel like a novella doesn’t require as much… frustration? lol It’s a simplified version of designing, writing, and editing a novel. Again, this was a great read, Gwen. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  28. A goldfish? Wow, Gwen. What does that say about society as a whole? Sad. Anyway, yes, I agree. Novellas and novelettes are the perfect “in between snack” for readers. Recently, I got my rights back for two novellas, and I plan to dip my toe into self-publishing and re-release them, along with new novelettes in between my longer works. Fingers crossed

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  29. What an intriguing post, Gwen, I am shocked at the length (or lack thereof) of our attention spans. I love reading both shorter stories and full-length novels. And I also love writing both. The shorter stories give a more instant gratification whereas the longer novels provide a deeper story experience. I will continue to read and write both and try to be more aware of increasing my attention span. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this interesting research!

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    • Thank you, Jan. The research has given me a lot to think about. Meditation or long walks seem a way to increase attention spans, but surely there are other means as well. 😊

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  30. I think the research is dead-on, Gwen. I have noticed that folks are going for the short novelette series. I only read at night before bed, so I don’t really care about the length of the book. The short ones seem to be in favor though. Maybe I’ll just wrap the Eternal Road sequel and join the crowd. Great post.

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  31. I know as I’ve gotten older (and somehow busier), my attention span has decreased. I wouldn’t have guessed it was technology-related, but maybe I should reassess. In any event, how sad that the average attention span is less than a goldfish. For all the benefits technology has given us, there are definitely drawbacks, too.

    I’ve been reading (and writing) shorter forms of fiction lately. It’s easier to fit little chunks into my schedule than larger ones. But I still prefer novels and likely always will prefer the long form over the short. Maybe when I retire, I’ll have time to enjoy whatever I want. Until then, I will continue to read and write all lengths of fiction.

    Great post, Gwen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, Staci, for adding to the conversation. I never expected to find what I did when I explored this topic. I now realize that my attention span has declined, that I’m distracted by my phone, the internet, etc. It seems there is always something more that I need to do, and this impacts what I write and what I read. Just knowing this dynamic, helps me choose. Maybe you too? 😊

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      • I don’t use my phone too often as a computer (the screen is so small!) but I do know I’m guilty of looking things up right away when I come across them. I tell myself its because I’d forget otherwise (and I would), but I also know that’s a distraction from whatever I was doing, which breaks my flow. Then it takes longer to get back into my earlier task. When I had my kids, I was working full time and pretty much solely responsible for household tasks, yet I still seemed to have more time than I do now. I guess I’m just moving slower, but that surprises me because I know I’m stronger in my craft now, so you’d think I’d be more efficient.

        I don’t know, Gwen. It’s puzzling. But I know the fault lies with me. It would likely take a lot of analysis to figure out where I went wrong and correct the problems.

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  32. This is a great question that I’ve been wondering about Gwen. But goldfish? Lol. I used to love long long books… over 600 pages at least. But those days are long gone, and these days, I’ll hesitate if a book is over 350 pages. My favorite length is about 240-300 pages, something I can read in about 4 hours. I’m getting used to reading short stories and novellas, and I’ve read some great ones, but I still love those long reading immersions where a book consumes my world for a day or two or three. 🙂

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  33. I think I’ve been reading more shorts, collections of shorts, and novellas more than I ever did before. My preference will always be a full length novel, but I do enjoy mixing it up now and again with shorter stories. I’ve written three novellas and a collection of shorts, so I definitely agree there is a market for them.

    It’s sad about our attention spans, but a goldfish?!?!? That’s just devastating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you, Mae. Goldfish?! I doubt I’ll be able to gaze at these little loves in the same way again. 😊 I like books of all lengths, but most of my recent choices have been collections or shorter reads. Microsoft’s research has prompted me to do a bit of self-reflection for sure. Thank you, Mae, for sharing.

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  34. I know my attention span isn’t what it used to be. I can still immerse myself in a well-written novel. I love it when I hate to see one come to a close. However, I also enjoy short stories and like you read several over the holidays. I have published a novella and a short story (could be called a novelette). I’m currently working on a book of short stories.

    Great post, Gwen with lots to think about. By the way, I’m most distracted when trying to watch a movie or TV. It’s hard not to turn to something else.

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  35. I’ve noticed that, on a site where I offer review copies of my books, it’s the shorter page counts people are going for. Overwhelmingly so. Your observations, I fear, are all too accurate. Myself, I love a novel over and above a short story or novella. Quick reads can be good for when I simply don’t have the time for prolonged reading, but full novels will always be my favourites. This trend, though, leaves me thinking I might focus on writing shorter books for a while and see what happens. Great post, Gwen. And I love your Canva graphics! Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

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    • Thank you, Harmony. After reading the research, I’ve reflected on my own behavior. Two years ago, my son gifted me with a military book that is well over 1000 pages. I’ve yet to read one page. I keep thinking I’ll find the time, but I never do. Instead, I choose a shorter read, then another, and another, while the gifted book collects dust. I don’t like thinking that I have the attention span of a goldfish, but the thought gives me pause. 😊

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  36. I think technology can help or hurt productivity. I will flit from screen to screen when several are open, but I can ignore stuff in the background hen I maximize the screen I’m focused on. I almost never try to read while my laptop is on. I prefer a paper book because even the Kindle app is annoying. If I touch a word, and the dictionary pops up, I might follow that rabbit for a while 😉

    I recently read short stories that were part of two writing challenges I participated in. I quite liked reading and being done. That said. I am still reading a couple of books. As for my attention span, I’m trying to stay above goldfish-level. This was a great post, Gwen, thought provoking and I managed to read the entire post in one sitting :=)

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    • Thank you, Dan. You brought a smile by reading the post to the end. 😊 Especially with nonfiction, I prefer paper. Otherwise, I read mostly on Kindle. I have to admit, my attention span is now more scattered — unless I’m in nature. Then I focus on nothing but the beauty around me.

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  37. In the past, I’ve enjoy writing short stories more than reading them, Gwen. That said, lately with so many writer friends publishing novellas, I’m reading more. With prices growing up on everything, I would think the sales might be better. As for our attention span, I know the internet has ruined mine…sigh. Great post! xo

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    • The internet is both a blessing and a curse, isn’t it? Thank you, Jill, for your insights. Like you, I’m reading more novellas these days and loving them. 💗

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  38. This is interesting. As I just start my blogging journey my brother told me youtube has shorts now, so make your blogs short and sweet. People don’t have patience now. Btw I have always been a fan of short stories! So I think your observation is perfect.

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  39. I’ve never previously been a fan of short stories but I’ve read quite a few of them in the last two years. Concentration span might be a part of it as I’ve struggled to focus since the onset of the pandemic. I do think you’re right about the pressures, though. I’m retired but I still grapple to fit everything into my day. Knowing that I have enough time available to slip in a quick, delicious read often takes me to a novella or collection of short stories as it means I don’t have the same worry as I’d have starting a full length novel and not knowing when I’d be getting back to it. I’ve also read some great short fiction recently! Another thought provoking post. x

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    • You are so right about the impact of the pandemic. Because of the isolation, I often don’t know what day of the week it is. 😊 I tend to read shorter stories these days, both because many of my beloved writers publish novellas and because time has mysteriously disappeared. Thank you so much for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a fascinating concept, isn’t it? At first, I rejected the thesis, but not now. Recently I had lunch at Panera’s and I watched as people checked their phones, used their iPads, and randomly spoke to the person sitting opposite them. I noticed a mom and son, who barely ate, never spoke. They were separately playing a game on their phones. It’s a lot to think about, right? Thank you for sharing. 😊

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