The Elements Of A Successful Short Story
”The short story has a formal completeness but doesn’t call attention to this in the best work.”
Laura Furman, editor of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016, talks about the soul of a short story — the essence that it must carry from beginning to end — be it from elements of the past that interact with elements of the future. Creating a short story requires a strong connection to the present; it requires that the writer is able to create distinctions between the story’s past and present.
”In a good beginning, the reader’s right there in the story’s world, in the present, and when the past comes lurching from behind, the reader knows the difference between now and then.
How To Write A Short Story With Clarity & Economy
Patrick Ryan, author of The Dream Life Of Astronauts, talks about immediacy, beginning with a cold hard truth: you only get one read. I’m unsure if I agree with this statement, but I’ll comment a bit later.
Clarity and economy are Ryan’s main advice to writer. Being able to concisely sum up an action, an event, or even a character’s motive for something is a skill many writers (perhaps not poets) have difficulty doing. I myself have issues doing this at times.
Similarly to Laura Furman’s advice, Ryan tells us how it is essential to capture the attention of our readers as quickly as possible, and to continue holding on to their attention right up to the end by making our stories interesting, familiar, and relatable. This I agree with. Familiarity is an important element to any writing — not just short story writing — because it allows the reader to identify with what has been written; it gives the reader an opportunity to empathize with different perspectives, with different opinions, and with different understandings of the world through an avenue of familiarity.
”Don’t worry about whether the story you’re trying to tell is interesting to anyone but you. Make it interesting. One of the best ways I know to do that is to make the minutiae as familiar and universal as possible.
How To Create A Character In Short Fiction
Lesley Nneka Arimah, author of What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky, perhaps sums it up as best as I have ever seen it summed up: short stories are captured moments living within a large, ever-encompassing world that is each individual’s life.
”Your short story is that conversation and your reader is the person you are speaking to. As you are writing your story, you must ask yourself if what you’re revealing about your character is pertinent.”.
Arimah’s main advice is to practice scarcity. Revealing an entire character’s backstory in a few short words is not only impossible but impractical, when it comes to short story writing. Less is more. Discovering a character’s nuances is best practiced when a character interacts with the scene — the moment — in which you have created. The world is full of moments in which we see people everyday, not knowing the full extent of who they are, only what is revealed to us through conversation. Why not implement this real-life fact into our writing?
”Approaching character development as discovery rather than invention allows you to relax as you are not taxing yourself to make up an entire interesting person. Just as one conversation cannot fully encompass the details of your life, one story cannot be responsible for the entirety of your character’s life.”
We Can Read As Much As We Want, Yes, But I Suppose Sometimes There Are Individuals Who Only Read Once. Should We Specifically Cater Our Writing To those Individuals First?
I mentioned earlier that I was unsure with Patrick Ryan’s statement of “you only get one read.” He was referring to how some readers are either impatient or only read content that catches their attention. Shaping our writing to fit the need of an impatient reader is also allows us to generalize how our audience reacts to written content. Is short story writing supposed to be read quickly and only once? I’m unsure. What I do know is that there are some short pieces that I reread — those that have captured my attention, yes, but those that I enjoy reading because they provide me a succinct impression of life that feels full and complete. Like Lesley Nneka Arima says, I think short story writing should be about capturing these moments. Perhaps Ryan’s advice about clarity and economy are key to establishing moments of fullness and completion. However, I don’t think that catering to an impatient reader is a necessary step toward creating a clear and concise piece. In my humble opinion, an impatient reader will not read your story regardless of how short it is.
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