Saturday, April 3, 2010

What is a Short Story Anyway?

Still on a short story tangent after my guest-blog on the topic last week (see my last blog post), and preparing to introduce the new anthology, A Year in Ink, vol 3 at the Public Library reading in San Diego Monday. Someone asked me recently what makes a short story a short story, anyway? Isn't it just anything you write that is short?
Answer: No.
Short stories are less complex than novels--they usually focus on only one incident, have a single plot, often one or limited settings and characters, and usually take place over a short period of time (unlike the great Brokeback Mountain which broke more than a few rules). But every story still needs exposition, conflict, action, crisis, climax, resolution and maybe even a moral. Every story doesn't follow this classical pattern completely, though; many modern short stories start right in the middle of the action.
A classic definition of a short story is that it must be able to be read in one sitting. Other definitions place the maximum word length at 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000. But I've seen plenty of good flash fiction at only 500 words long.
You'll find some of those short-short pieces in the new anthology mentioned above, and in story collections in every good bookstore; Some great short story writers can be found writing to this day in ever-more-limited spaces in magazines, like the New Yorker. The latest New Yorker features a short piece by Junot Diaz, one of my current favorite writers.
Also, my dad sent me this link to a recent New York Times article about the science of why we read and care about fiction...Check it out...
Hasta pronto!