Defining the Short Story:
In his essay ‘Principles of a Story‘ for the magazine ‘Prospect‘, Raymond Carver quoted one of the most prolific British short story writers of his generation, VS Pritchett, who defined the short story as;
“ something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.”
Here at Solqu Shorts we’ve always felt that quote really sums up what the short story is all about. So much so that we’ve got that quote printed out and stuck up on our office wall.
What is states is that a short story is a snapshot, like a photograph, capturing one specific moment of plotline and featuring a finite number of characters.
But that still sounds quite technical doesn’t it?
So let’s go back to basics. We all understand that the words ‘short’ and ‘story’ mean something; namely its a story and its short in length! Here at Solqu Shorts we tend to define a short story as being up to 5000 words but industry wide this does vary immensely. As a simple rule of thumb though, if you are clearing 50 pages you probably have a novella on your hands rather than a short.
But there is much more to a short story than size. Technically there are certain features to a short story.
Features of a Short Story
The big feature of a short story is that it is normally charcter centred in its narrative. This means the character (normally your main one) needs to achieve some form of resolution or outcome (even if its quite small). So for example our Hero (A) needs to find a person (B) who is missing. The outcome of the short is achieving that; A finds B in some form or another.
Of course being a short story the complexity and scope of the story leading up to A finding B is reigned in (compared to a novella or novel say).
In the modern world there are many variations on this though and the short story has evolved into something more than a story running a few pages long.
Here at Solqu Shorts we love the novella and often will commission a series of short stories that connect up to form an ongoing narrative and story upto novella size. But what is important is that each short story still needs to be a self contained independent story in its own right with some form of outcome (even if it is a cliff hanger that leaves the reader wanting to know more).
To put it simply, a reader should be able to read a short story in one sitting and feel the core plot of the story has been resolved (in one way or another) by the end (even if its a climatic cliffhanger ending).
To achieve that the writer must follow some simple but crucial rules.
5 Basic Rules for Writing a Short Story:
1) Keep the narrative tightly focused and as brief as possible
2) Show don’t tell (which is one of the fundamental rules of writing!)
3) Don’t drift – the story needs to stay on track and not wander off onto tangents
4) Don’t overload the reader with characters.
5) But do make sure the story is driven by the actions, behaviours, thoughts, dialogue and motivations of your characters.
Its what the short story is all about…
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