Novels by serious writers of genius often eventually become best-sellers, but most contemporary best-sellers are written by second-class writers whose psychological brew contains a touch of naivety, a touch of sentimentality, the story-telling gift, and a mysterious sympathy with the day-dreams of ordinary people.” This quote by Leonard Woolf depicts the realm of best-selling lists: they are filled with badly-written prose that does not help readers establish lasting impressions and values. Throughout the history of literature, the system of values has been clearly set: “populist readers” did not bother to comprehend the complex hidden meanings, sound theories and sophisticated uses of language present in masterpieces. All academic debates depict such culture as bad taste and proven manner of manipulating the masses. The contemporary literature, with 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight as some if its most notable representatives, is brought down to the moral and political values of popular consumerism.

People have always relied on literature when they wanted to replace the mundane experiences with a world of heroes, adventure, and romance. Popular literature reflects contemporary culture and life, which is a rapidly changing category full of contradictions. However, there are certain generalizations that can be made, mainly because authors who intend to produce best-sellers do not dare to create anything new. In his book Cultural Populism, Jim McGuigan defines this term as “the intellectual assumption, made by some students of popular culture, that the symbolic experiences and practices of ordinary people are more important analytically and politically than Culture with a capital C.” With this definition, McGuigan emphasizes the uncritical general conception of the study of popular culture, which reinforces the strategies of interpretation at the expense of promoting real literary values. Fifty Shades of Grey, as one of the most popular publications in recent years, degrades women’s values and character. Nevertheless, millions of women from all around the world are thrilled by the story, mainly because the male character is powerful, rich, and dominant.

Popular contemporary literature, as a factor that depicts the cultural values of society, is characterized by consumerism and strives for entertainment, marketable efforts aiming towards mass consumption, misinterpretation of historical facts, and clichés. The novels written with the intention to become best-sellers are light, exciting and entertaining, but lack worth that would make them valuable for future generations. The man is imperfect, and contemporary authors are trying to depict that characteristic through their work. However, the best-selling books are not a representation of reality; on the contrary, they the lives of common people into a parody. Writers adapt to readers’ needs, and their work is formed by the expectations of the masses. Due to the increased working hours and the tendency to spend most of the free time online, today’s readers don’t have time to analyze complex characters. Those are the main reasons why people prefer “light reads” that do not necessarily encourage critical thinking and reassessment of one’s values.

The general Goodreads community has voted The Hunger Games as “the best book ever”. Although there are some literary classics on this list, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Orwell’s Animal Farm and Hugo’s Les Miserables, readers’ preferences are dominated with pleasurable reads, whose writers don’t intend to produce intellectually and emotionally stimulating prose. The prevalence of bad literature on the shelves of bookstores does not imply that agents and editors lack sophistication and knowledge of what good writing is made of. This fact inevitably leads us to the conclusion that contemporary publishing is driven by marketing and sales. If millions of readers are willing to spend their money on a particular type of literature, the publishers are ready to popularize it, and many writers are motivated to follow the trends. In the world of publishing, the criteria for “good books” are not equalized to those for “well-written books”. The main function of today’s fiction is to comply with the hedonistic values of the masses.

Instead of dealing with serious literature, populists seek the pleasure of mainstream culture, which requires minimal effort on the part of the consumer. The overall reading preferences of our generation are contributing towards the trend of misshaping moral and cultural values. The writers who aim towards modeling their readers’ contemplations and understanding of the world are a minority. Through its intention to meet the preferences of the general reading audience, contemporary literature is promoting mass consumerism, cultural populism, and lack of critical evaluation. More than a hundred million people have bought Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. Since a great number of writers are focused on reaching such success and selling more copies of their work, we come to the conclusion that the trends in literature are characterized with corroded ethical values, determined by the fact that most people who are willing to read are rejecting traditional literary authorities and incline towards shallow narratives.

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Although short stories are limited in terms of length, they provide the author with great freedom to take one moment and expand it into an amusing piece of literature. You can go in an unexpected direction, describe the scene or expose the characters’ feelings, but you have to avoid sloppiness.

Short stories are a great challenge because they allow the writer to express creativity in its purest form, but also restrain him into a short word count. If you just started experimenting with this genre, it might be difficult for you to find the right balance between too short and too long.

When you read the famous short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, O. Henry and Kate Chopin, you may get the impression that the writing process would go easy with the right dose of inspiration. However, a single short story may take few weeks of planning and conceptualizing. The most important thing to remember is that you cannot force the story out of your mind. Be ready to note your ideas at any time! When you are ready to get to work, you can follow this process that will result with a great short piece of literature.
Getting started

This is a common advice given to writers who want to make an attempt in this genre: read Chekhov! Then proceed with Tobias Wolff and Ernest Hemingway. Don’t be intimidated by the talent of these authors; you’ll never reach your full potential without knowing what great writing looks like.

When you are ready to produce your own work, you should plan the following aspects:

What does the character want? Stay away from clichés such as finding love, discovering the meaning of life, and similar abstract things. You need something practical, like a kid who wants a specific toy, or a doctor who wants to be a dancer. These simple wishes will reveal a deeper meaning.
What actions has the character taken to achieve that goal? You need to develop a background that will uncover the really important parts of the story.
The setting is important! Think of surrounding details that would set the tone and help you convey the message.
You need something unexpected. Add emotions, a shocking ending, or an action that would lead to serious consequences.
What’s the important choice that the character makes? You want to awaken the reader’s empathy about the development of the situation, but he should not predict the outcome.

Work on the theme

Every short story needs a specific theme that conveys a meaningful message. This will be the main motif of the piece, so you should have it covered before proceeding with the framework and plot development. Every sentence, every word you write should be related to it.
Setting and time span

Choose the setting very carefully. Don’t be predictable; abandoned houses and cemeteries are not the only scenes you can use for a horror story. Think of a place where your readers can imagine themselves. That will add a realistic appeal to your writing.

As far as the time span is concerned, remember that it has to be short. The story may be based on a single moment, event, hour, or day in the protagonist’s life.
Develop the characters

Don’t be too ambitious; you cannot fit more than three main characters in a short story. You don’t have to offer detailed background on each protagonist, but make sure to give some hints that will bring the theme closer to the reader. Your job as a writer is to present complex personalities through a short, simple piece of literature. Here are some of the hints you can use to add depth to the story:

something the protagonist hates;
something he loves;
family circumstances;
habitual gestures;
phobias;
faith;
an illness;
faults;
appearance, and more.

Write a catchy introduction!

You don’t have any time for circumventions; you have to get straight to the point. Thinking of a captivating introduction is usually the hardest part of the writing process. You have everything planned and the story is already ready to come out, but you cannot think of an introductory sentence. You need immediacy, tension, conflict, an unexpected situation, or anything else that would grab the attention of the reader.

“The police superintendent Otchmyelov is walking across the market square wearing a new overcoat and carrying a parcel under his arm.” Notice how Chekhov managed to introduce the reader to the protagonist, setting, and theme in a single sentence. What does the new overcoat mean? What kind of parcel is he carrying? We can immediately assume some things, but we don’t know where the author will lead us to.
Write clear dialogue

Don’t try to infuse a highly-intellectual dialogue into a short story. You need something brief, realistic, and meaningful. If you make the reader find meaning behind the succinct, casual dialogue, you goal as a writer will be achieved. Remember: the dialog must contribute to the theme of your story. If there are any unnecessary words and phrases, be ruthless and edit them out.
What will happen?

You need a clear plot. The way you set up the entire situation and come up with breaking points will determine the success of this piece. You need to think of a hooking event that will guide the reader towards the rest of the story. Does the protagonist commit suicide? Does he move in with his parents after a bad breakup? Does he get arrested? Think of something that can result from the opening sentence, but don’t go for the most obvious alternative.

There must be a clear beginning, development, and end of the plot. The worst mistake you could make is to signal the twist right from the start. Maintain some suspense and allow the reader to guess until the last moment.
A conflict and solution

If you explore some of the best short stories ever written, you will notice a mutual aspect: tension and conflict. The main character can get into conflict with himself, a friend, God, a policeman, society, or anything else you can think of.

Clearly, the conflict needs a resolution. Where does the situation lead to?
Make it perfect!

If you just started writing short stories, you’ll be surprised with the amount of editing they require. Revising, editing and proofreading are essential steps of the process. If you skip this stage, you should be prepared for harsh criticism.

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