The Magic of the Short Story

The cover of [untitled] issue 8. Illustrated by Kev Howlett
When I first started writing, short story was my go-to style. I thought that writing a short story would be easier than a novel, which was my goal. In the many years of my own writing and facilitating writing workshops, this seems to be a popular opinion of many amateur writers .

I soon found that writing a short story isn’t easier than writing a novel. It takes great skill to develop characters and plot in a shorter amount of time and this can take many re-writes to get right.

Let’s first define a short story.

A short story technically is anything under 20,000 words, but if a story is less than 1000 words it’s then considered flash or micro-fiction. I don’t think I’ve seen a short story of 20,000 as this is nudging novella territory. The average short story is around 2000-3,500 words.

Many short story journals have a word limit that can be anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 words. This is a pity for any of those amazing stories that might be up in the 8–10,000 word length.

How does short story differ to novels?

Length is obviously a defining qualifier. Then the structure needs to be considered. A novel has much more time to develop the three-act structure. This doesn’t mean that the three-act is turfed out but it needs to be abbreviated somewhat in order to carry the story, usually a build up to a transformative event for the main character.

For the most part, there is little room for lots of characters in a short story. This means that often it will concentrate on one major character. This means that other characters are only there to help the story of the main character and subplots are often not included. Compare this to a novel like Harry Potter where we have lots of characters and we are given back story for many of them. This allows the reader to care about all the main characters because we know a little more about them. We don’t have this luxury in a short story.

Why are short stories magic?

A short story is usually and intense experience. Sometimes you’ll go back and reread them, linger over the theme or message and savour the style and pacing of the story. The brevity of a story can often heighten the impact of what it tells the reader. It doesn’t mean that it has to be jam-packed with action but it does need to resolve a situation in a shorter time. It’s as much about what you leave out as what you put in.

If you like the idea of writing a short story, it’s a great idea to search out some writers known for the craft and read their work. Here are ten stories to get you started:

  1. Stephen King, The Graveyard Shift
  2. Neil Gaiman, Down to the Sunless Sea
  3. Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince
  4. Ray Bradbury, The Sound of Thunder
  5. Margaret Atwood, Stone Mattress
  6. Arthur C Clarke, The Sentinel (made into movie, 2001:A Space Odyssey)
  7. F Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (made into a movie)
  8. Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain (made into a movie)
  9. Daphne Du Maurier, Don’t Look Now (made into a movie)
  10. James Joyce, The Dead (also made into a movie).

When I first started out in publishing, I wanted to help new and emerging writers to become published because I knew how hard it is. Our little pocketbook, [untitled], became our very first publication and we’re still proud to be supporting new and emerging writers in Australia. The last 7 issues have many well-known Australian writers in them before they became established, such as Alec Patric, George Ivanoff, Laurie Steed, Ryan O’Neill, Tess Evans and Laura Elvery (just to name a few). Please search out short stories from these writers (or buy back issues of [untitled] which will have their stories in them).

Next week, we will be launching issue 8 with 15 new stories. I have recently read the whole book in proof form and I’m very proud of how it’s come together. These writers will be names to look out for on bookshelves in the future.

Blaise the Book Chick.


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