Short Story Theory


Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 14

Thread: Short Story Theory

  1. #1

    Short Story Theory

    I've been told that I often have way too much going on in my short stories.

    The orthodox consensus is that a short story should: 1) focus on one main event, 2) involve a limited cast, 3) be told through a single point of view.

    I don't know why I insisted on rebelling against this. It got me nowhere.

    (If there are speculative elements, they should be introduced at the very beginning.)

    Let's go over "Rip Wan Winkle" by Washington Irving.

    A man goes on a hunting trip into the Catskill mountains, mets a company of dutch settlers, drinks from their flagon, and sleeps twenty years. He wakes up and discovers how he and the world have both changed.

    The story is packed with luxuriant descriptions and characterizations that seem almost dead-end; but the actual plot is appropriately simple. You can also find a great deal of atmospheric and chilling foreboding. It's quite long for a short story (by today's standards) at nearly 8,000 words; but it feels quite brief for the reasons I have mentioned.

  2. #2
    I find a good way to think of short stories is a little bit like constructing a (long) joke.

    The basic principles are the same: A single scene (you can have more than one 'scene' in a short story but they would need to be fairly short), a single point of view (I tend to die on this bridge, short stories with multiple points of view almost never seem to work), no more than 2 significant characters and probably no more than four or five total characters (excluding bystanders).

    The most critical similarity is that both short stories and jokes tend to have a single 'point' or 'punchline' toward which the entire story needs to be built toward. You can argue that in the abstract that's true for novels as well, but novels tend to function in more of an arc, with a resolution that occurs mostly or entirely 'on the page'.

    Short stories tend to be far more ambiguous, far more 'shocking', more based on the idea of ending on a question rather than answer(s). There is far less requirement to resolve in a short story HOWEVER the 'resolution' still needs to be there in an implied sense.

    A good example of this in motion is something like The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (considered one of the best short stories in American fiction, and free!). In The Lottery the story is simple: There's a weirdo small town where the people have a weirdo ritual involving an annual lottery used to choose somebody to stone to death. The story is pretty much an exploration of the idea of how this works and what it means. The story ends with...

    Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. "It isn't fair," she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, "Come on, come on, everyone." Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.

    "It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.
    This isn't the kind of ending you can get away with easily in a novel. Imagine reading 400 pages and this is the payoff! But in a short story it works because often the idea is to end on a question, not an answer.

  3. #3
    I guess this makes sense. One of my favourite short stories, "The Story of a Panic" by E.M.Forster, has lots of luxuriant detail, a small cast, and one POV (though I must admit it is "quite dreadfully colonial" in places). Ditto "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood. Then again, these are older. I've not read that many newer short stories.


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    The first cut don't hurt at all
    The second only makes you wonder
    The third will have you on your knee
    s
    - Propaganda, "Duel"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous








  4. #4
    Member TheManx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2020
    Location
    The no-mans land between the cold city and suburbia.
    Posts
    389
    Quote Originally Posted by EternalGreen View Post
    I've been told that I often have way too much going on in my short stories...
    The stories you post here? I don’t see it.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by EternalGreen View Post
    The orthodox consensus is that a short story should: 1) focus on one main event, 2) involve a limited cast, 3) be told through a single point of view.
    4) It's your story, you decide how to tell it. Why write inside someone else's 'box' when you don't have to?

    Be yourself, write what you know, and put your heart into it.

    -JJB
    ​"Strong convictions precede great actions....."

    Hidden Content Hidden Content Hidden Content

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by TheManx View Post
    The stories you post here? I don’t see it.
    I often fail to focus on one particular event. Some people find my endings enjoyable though.

    Maybe I should try even harder to focus on the "punch" and not expect an even ride.

  7. #7
    My short stories always focus on one thing. That's really vague, but that's the way I think of it. What if someone lived their life by deciding what to do with a coin flip? Santa deciding what to do now that the North Pole is melting.

    For a 750-word limit, it's really easy to focus. But I think I do that with even longer short stories. What if a teen has a second personality posting erotic pictures of herself on the internet? That one was 9K. One supposed short story took me 40K to tell.
    My website (Hidden Content ) has good essays on starting a book and using metaphoricals.

  8. #8
    a short story should: 1) focus on one main event, 2) involve a limited cast, 3) be told through a single point of view.

    No rules, no rules, no rules!

    Okay, those can often be useful guidelines, but you can always stray from them if you have a reason to. Write it the way you do because... , not just for the heck of it, that probably won't work.
    "Give me time I will find out how to delete the duplicates, in the meantime avoid the ones with a date instead of a title."
    I found out how and was discussing it with my technical adviser (Younger daughter) and she said "Why bother? It's obvious anyway and not a problem, and you will lose a few views" . So I didn't.

    Stories from just over two minutes to just over sixteen minutes long, listen while you work, my friend listens whilst doing her work e-mails Hidden Content
    Hidden Content


    A thread of links useful to writers wishing to learn
    Piglet's picks. Hidden Content

  9. #9
    Member TheManx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2020
    Location
    The no-mans land between the cold city and suburbia.
    Posts
    389
    EG, do you read a lot of short stories?

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by TheManx View Post
    EG, do you read a lot of short stories?
    I do.

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
This website uses cookies
We use cookies to store session information to facilitate remembering your login information, to allow you to save website preferences, to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners.