Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing the short story

Writing the short story. How do you do it?

Got a theory/idea on what constitutes a great short story?

Yes . . . and no, baby. I do and I don't. For the last 18 months I've been writing a lot of short stories. Playing with them. Slicing and dicing and trying to come up with a form that moves with a smooth flow; like drinking the first glass of Coke Cola of the day (my preferred drink). Kinda goes down the throat with a hot kick and a squirming growl--but tastes soooooooooo good doing it!

What I've come up with is this. First, I like innuendo in telling a story instead of throwing a brick through a store front window. What you imply in the story is as important as saying something. Critically so--since it gives the reader the luxury of allowing his imagination to build all kinds of mental images and implications around the main story.

Secondly, Raymond Chandler had it right: brevity in dialogue. Short, vicious body punches straight to the gut when it comes to dialogue. Crisp, tight dialogue--and not too much of it--is the icing on the cake. It offers the best vehicle for you to spring that surpise ending. Or tug the emotional strings of the heart in a profound way.

Thirdly--and possibly controversially--leave a few holes in the plot. Yes, the plot has to make sense. If the plot isn't laid down into a believable carpet, everything else falls to pieces. But it's not important to explain every detail. Again, it goes back to the Number One thingee--the implications. Half the joy for a reader, I think, is figuring out how the crime/hit/love note/whatever . . . was actually done/created.

Fourthly--one sentence descriptions. Vivid descriptions to describe scene settings, people, actions. In one sentence (not one sentence for all! One sentence for each item). Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely critical.

There. That's it. The Perfect Short Story!!

Or is it?

You tell me.


  1. All good points, B.R. Whether writing a novel or a short story, if it's to work and be an enjoyable read, it has to have a strong plot, believable characters and thorough descriptions. I completely agree with the comments about implying vs. saying. Some things need to be explained completely, but if the reader can put themselves into the story and wonder about sidebar incidentals, that pulls them in. Origins of some items or certain relationships of passing characters and so on left to the reader's imagination will make them feel part of the story and they will enjoy it a lot more. I know I really enjoy stories where absolutely everything is not front and center. I love filling in the blanks myself.

  2. Well, sometimes i really like the intricate characterizations and plotting of an Alice Munro short story but sometimes I like the practically flash fiction of Raymond Carver.

    Two Hemingway stories really stand out, of course; The Killers and Fifty Grand.

    A little while ago I read Ed McBain's short story collection, "Learning to Kill," and it's really good. Also Elmore Leonard's western stories are a lot different than I expected (I haven't read many westerns so I was influenced by TV and the movies) and his "When the Women Come Out to Dance" also has range from a Carver-esque three page story to a couple of novellas.

    Lately I've really started to prefer short storiees over novels - to read and to write.