About Me · Writing Resources

What Makes a Short Story?

Before I set off on this challenge, however, let me articulate something: I suck at short stories. That is a tried and true fact. I struggle from the very foundation up – from the very scope of my subjects, even. The issue is that I struggle with brevity, and a short story is, by nature, brief. If a novel is a musical, a short story is a song.

The difference between a novel and a short story is the difference between a movie and a snapshot – a photograph is not merely a frame of a film. There are different rules that govern cinematography and photo composition, and one is not superior to the other. A writing quote that several of you might be familiar with, which reads as follows:

“A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger. That is not, of course, the same thing as an affair or a marriage, but kisses can be sweet, and their very brevity forms their own attraction.”
― Stephen King

And I agree with Mr. King in that a short story has its own allure in the form of how concentrated a moment it depicts. A short story is a stolen moment with more meaning in the things left unsaid. A novel can be an ice cream sundae with flavors and layers and an endless assortment of toppings, can be piled higher with airy whipped cream (not the best metaphor but I am in an airbnb room absolutely craving sweets right now), but a short story is a flan and must be dense to be any good – simple at first glance, perhaps, but .

I struggle with the concentration, with the density that a short story must possess. Most of my concepts may start out specific, but I have a tendency to let characters slip free of their leashes, let worlds spiral out of control, and have plotlines fan out in a spiderweb when I need more of a knot with girlscout-precision.

So, while Steven King’s quote on short stories may be one of the most famous, it does not actually help me in understanding what I must keep in mind while writing a short story. Of course, part of that may be due to the fact that kisses and romance holds little appeal to me, but regardless, I will now share with you some other quotes that I’ve taken to more enthusiastically:

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

“I’ll give you the whole secret to short story writing. Here it is. Rule 1: Write stories that please yourself. There is no Rule 2.”
― O. Henry

“The short story is still like the novel’s wayward younger brother, we know that it’s not respectable – but I think that can also add to the glory of it.”
―Neil Gaiman

My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…
―Haruki Murakami

A short story is a shard, a sliver, a vignette. It’s a biopsy on the human condition but it doesn’t have this capacity to think autonomously for itself.
―Will Self

I feel the term ‘short story’ is, in fact, a misnomer. Short stories are not simply ‘short’ in length, they are condensed. They are thick with meaning and feeling, and often times people look at the size of it and think of it as junk food when really the richness will leave you as sated as a meal. Oh dear, more food metaphors – maybe I should wrap this up and just get something to eat. In any case, most importantly, here is the quote that inspired me to go for this challenge:

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” – Ray Bradbury

Before I leave, some famous short stories you’ve probably heard of that I’ve enjoyed include:

Some modern ones that you probably haven’t heard of that I adore are:

Guess that’s it for today, okay, bye!

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