I am a big fan of short stories.
I love the kick, the thrill, the punch I get from reading a good story, and in today’s very busy world, it’s nice to get that sometimes in a bite-size package, otherwise known as the short story. But, other than their abbreviated length, what makes a short story different from a novel?
Good short stories usually focus on one significant event.
Novels leave room for expansion, a greater exploration of character and backstory, and usually cover a broader scope than the short story. Good short stories usually focus on one significant event, and include a look at what led up to that event and what came after. Writer James Scott Bell puts it this way:
“A great short story is about the fallout from one shattering moment…It’s a moment that changes someone’s life, or at least their perspective on life. And afterwards, there is no going back to things as usual.”
Short stories focus down on a single, life-changing moment, giving us an inside view into a character and how they are affected in this moment and moving forward.
Short stories center on emotional impact.
The great editor, Sol Stein emphasized that stories are about “creating an emotional experience for the reader…who should be oblivious to the fact that he is seeing words on paper.” All story, short or long, targets the reader’s emotions, but short stories often pack a particularly potent punch because it is, of necessity, concentrated into a smaller package. And you know what they say about good things and small packages.
Allow me to attempt an analogy…
As I write this, I am looking out my window. It’s a beautiful day, clear at the moment, with a delicate light breaking through the trees. I’m in the great Northwest and since I moved here in January, we’ve had three days without rain, so I’m reasonably certain it will rain, probably several times, throughout the day. It sprinkled on me as I took my morning walk. The light will move and change, the sky will cloud up, clear, and cloud up again.
My point is that the passage of the day is like a novel. There are lots of changes, rain and shine, clouds and blue skies that all contribute to a beautiful and varied ‘story.’ But at the moment I began this analogy, a playful breeze came sweeping through, blowing a myriad of petals off the enormous cherry tree in our backyard, tossing them in a dazzling flurry, highlighted and backlit by watery sunshine, and creating an unutterably beautiful and memorable picture in my mind. The breeze is gone and the petals have fallen to the ground, but that moment is captured forever, a delight for me to have and hold for as long as I care to remember. It changed me in some small way.
That moment is like a short story, a slice out of the day that focuses on something significant and provides emotional impact. It is a thing of beauty, a nugget of some value. I love novels, but there is a lot to be said in praise of short stories. I hope you like them, too.
I’ve been working hard on this and I hope you love it!
I’m so grateful to all of you who signed up for my email list and who’ve joined me on my adventures thus far. I’ve got a special bonus for you.
The print version of my new book, a collection of short stories, will be up for sale on Amazon by week’s end. But for the wonderful readers on my email list–you get the eBook for free. Watch your inbox for my email with the link for your free copy. The book contains all the short stories I’ve sent you so far, plus a whole lot more.
And if you haven’t signed up for my email list, now would be a good time, and tell your friends. I’m anticipating a lot of exciting developments ahead in 2017!
On the topic of short stories, there are a lot of super-memorable examples, like O. Henry’s The Gift of The Magi and Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants. What are some stand-outs that you remember? I’d love to see if we share a favorite or have you introduce me and my readers to something new and wonderful.