In “The Writer” magazine for August, 2016, I found articles about writing short stories. You say, “So what? Short stories can roll right off my computer keyboard in nothing flat.” Maybe so, but think again.
When you write a 200 to 300 page novel, you are very aware of not roaming all over the page with extraneous words, showing-not telling, using active voice more than passive voice, watching out for point-of-view discrepancies, along with the mechanics of good writing—spelling, punctuation, capitalization. It’s no different with writing a short story. The only problem is to make sure your story pulls all the elements together seamlessly in a few pages.
One of the featured writers is Jennifer De Leon. Her advice? Take a universal concept attributed to a population and tone it down to a particular incident. In that one incident, your main character moves the story.
She quotes Sherman Alexie. His short story, What You Pawn, I Will Redeem, centers around a young homeless male Indian who seeks to buy his grandmother’s dancing outfit from a pawnshop owner. The outfit will cost him a thousand dollars. He offered five dollars. The problem is he can’t manage to keep any money. He has a spending fetish. In spite of that, he finally is able to purchase the outfit for the five dollars. He puts it on and dances down the street.
Two characters—one very important, the other a necessary support. One incident—to buy that outfit. One conclusion—outfit purchased and embraced. Time period—twenty-four hours.
My eye moved to the eight emoticons posted below Jennifer’s article. Below were two quotes aimed toward every author who wants to write a short story:
“Find the key emotion; this may be all you need to know to find your short story.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” Edgar Allan Poe