Part one of a two-part series on mastering the short story
Excellent piece. Thank you.
I love reading short stories, and I love writing them. One comparison I'd heard years ago from someone (no idea who now) that I always thought contained a piece of truth, while at the same time not being 100% accurate, was to think of a novel as a movie, and by comparison, a short story is a snapshot. But generally speaking, a short story is a single event or moment. There might be some back story filtered in, or even flashbacks, but the crux of the story is a single defining moment.
And I love the idea that in a short story, the drama has already ended; the story is about the aftermath.
Thanks again for this, and looking forward to part 2.
So well distilled. I always liked this from Julio Cortázar: “The novel wins by points, the short story by knockout.”
So many good points here! Short stories are such an interesting type of writing that I really need to explore further. The list of authors and collections you've compiled here is so helpful!
Some good advice here! Especially like the quotes from Poe and O. Henry. And the cartoon is hilarious :-)
Great ideas to ponder when working on a short story thank you I love working on a short story and always looking for the perfect end
I think I live by O. Henry's rule for short stories. I write to please myself. I don't look for a theme or try to write to satisfy whatever that theme might be; I leave that for the reader to figure out. I don't think of myself as that deep. I don't read a story looking for its theme, I read it because I enjoy the language as well as the story. I believe if I write something that interests me, and satisfies me, I'll find readers who feel the same way. But I have a habit of going over the word count. My stories tend to be long...ish. 10, 12, 14,000 words are typical lengths. I like to layer things. Events that happen are played out slow as the characters develop. And when I finish and look back at it, I discover there is a theme, but I was unaware of it at the moment of writing. I think if I wrote a story with the intentions of proposing a theme I wanted to convey from the start, I'd fall flat on my face.
Especially taken by the "Power of Omission" which I am learning now, through writing Micros.
Thank you, Brian. Sage wisdom from the best!￼￼
Brian, so good! I love what you've compiled and have read all of these writers. A great compilation. And if any readers/writers need a bit more help, maybe some will take a look here: https://marytabor.substack.com/p/write-it-how-to-get-started xo Mary
Great points here, Brian! I’m looking forward to reading part two. Hemingway’s iceberg concept is important for me, and one that I often consider when writing the “ultra” short stuff.
Claire Keegan's comment was interesting. My short story, "Subtraction," was predicated on the breakup of a marriage, and I had ideas about why it broke up. But when I started writing, those ideas were left unstated. It sufficed to note that the wife dumped the husband because he wasn't much good at being married. The story that interested me was embodied in the subsequent disintegration of the husband's personality.
Gina Berriault's comment comes in here. My idea in "Subtraction" was that loss can develop an unstoppable momentum, culminating in an existential state of loneliness and loss of identity. I think she's quite right that a crackup like that is especially well portrayed in short story form, brevity intensifying the effect.
Neil Gaiman is on target when he notes that in short stories, explanations are frequently superfluous. My story "Run of Luck" was inspired by a novella by another writer that described, step by step, how a run of increasingly horrible bad luck destroyed the perfect life of a beautiful, accomplished young woman. It was an impressive performance and it got me thinking: What would be the effects of an equally relentless run of good luck? The answer turned out to be: Not so good. In neither the novella that inspired me nor the story I wrote, were explanations required. After all, everybody knows that luck, good or bad, is a bolt from the blue.
Awesome. Lots of learning. Gracias!
Thanks for this piece - some interesting points to mull over.
Excellent piece, Brian. I like reading about stuff like this, because I always find one or two things I'm already doing "right", according to people who do it "best". 😊 The "starting at the end" is one point I adhere to most of the time. I don't even know I'm doing it, but if I think back on some of my short fiction pieces, this is exactly how they start. At the end. And the beginning/middle gets filled in through action/dialogue etc. So fascinating! Can't wait for part 2!