Part 3 of 3
So I had Steven test-drive my intended post, as I almost always do. He said, “I love you. Break this into smaller posts so your readers don’t go insane.”
I cannot argue with his logic, so this is part three of three.
- Part one includes the background, the disclaimer, and why I think this is worth reading.
- Part two includes what I could find on official short story definitions
- Part three includes what I like to see in MY short stories, and some pointed questions to try and fuel further discussion.
So by the end of Part 2, I’ve come to the conclusion that defining a “short story” is a lot like defining pornography. “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Whatever that popular definition may be, it certainly doesn’t seem to be what I’m looking for when I seek out “short stories”.
So What, Then?
So … no short stories for me, then? Is that where I’m headed?
The Short Story genre, such as it exists, seems to leave a slimy layer literary snobbery on my skin wherever I touch it, and I think that’s a shame.
I love STORIES.
Surely, somewhere out there are writers who love stories who also love to write shorter fiction. I know there are, because I’ve read them, tucked away in my beloved fantasy shelves. Books of short stories, chicks in chainmail, must love hellhounds (probably more of novellas than short stories, but still..), and many, many more. Heck, anyone else remember those old Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt stories?
What if I want a bite-sized piece of fiction that tells a full and complete story and leaves me feeling satisfied at the end?
Is that really so terrible a thing?
My Short Stories
I’d love to post here an excerpt from the requirements that Holly Lisle had put forth for her now-closed Rebel Tales short fiction magazine. (Closed because of the actions of one very unscrupulous person, much to my very real dismay.)
Unfortunately, I can’t find the original text, so I’ll have to wing it.
I believe that a story should be:
- an interesting character (character)
- doing interesting things (conflict)
- in a setting that matters (setting)
- to reach a goal (plot)
- and that these things happen for a reason (theme)
- preferably with some sort of magic finger-waggling goodness in there to warm the cockles of my heart
Pretty familiar list of five things, isn’t it? Looks a lot like what I posted above, and immediately said that many short stories disregarded. (We’ll say for the sake of argument I might be pleased to read a great short story that doesn’t include talking unicorns, so long as it contained all the other bits.)
I’ve gotten a bit more specific than the original list, and there are a lot of great sites that will help further define those items, for the curious.
Ideally, I think they’d fall between 2,000 and 10,000 words in length, but mostly because I reckon it’s pretty difficult to tell a complete story in less than two thousand words, but things have a lot of opportunity to explode out of control and take too long to read past the 10k mark. Also, I read pretty gosh-darned fast, so ten thousand words sounds about right for one sit-down session.
In a way, I could see my vision of a short story really being sort of a mini-novel. You’ve got all the same key elements in what I’d require for an entertaining novel or novella, but in a shorter, bite-sized package.
I think one can have excellent short fiction that is entertaining and fun without it being a Story, necessarily.
Scenes, flash fiction, short shorts, vignettes — these are the things I’m talking about.
As it happens, these are the easiest types of things to write. They’re often much shorter than a short story, and don’t require all that work of fully creating characters, setting, or plots. All they need is to evoke an emotion in the reader and they’re done.
I’ve written a lot of these. They’re quick and fun to churn out, but they inevitably leave the reader wondering what happens next rather than feeling satisfied. The writing feels incomplete. I call them “single serving story snippets”. I think a lot of writers start out writing these. They’re potato chips. Crispy, yummy, but not really a full meal.
Almost never do these types of writing leave me feeling satisfied the way a story does.
What I Want to Know From You
What I am interested in knowing is this:
- Do any of you feel the same as I do about the short stories you’ve been exposed to?
- Do any of you wish you could find more short stories that were stories, based on my definition thereof?
- Do any of you know of a fiction outlet that might already be publishing the sorts of short stories I’m looking for? (PLEASE)
- How would you define short stories written for YOU? Ignore popular definitions and tell me what you want in your short story. =]