A good friend of mine recently called the short story a “lost art.” It truly is. In a world of trilogies and series and 79-book installments–let me pause to rub my headache–the short story continues to draw the short straw.
What many don’t realize is that the short story set the foundation for writing as it is known today. Mark Twain made most of his green from the short. Edgar Allan Poe is well-known for many of his shorts such as “The Tell-Tale Heart.” J.D. Salinger wrote several shorts to coincide with his two published novels. Kate Chopin wrote her famous “The Story of an Hour” to protest the binds that were/are “womanhood.” Hemingway is famous for shorts such as “Hills like White Elephants” and his six-word long story “Baby Shoes.”
The list goes on.
Not only did it provide a great stage, but the short can teach us writers a lot about writing. To write a short, we have to be blunt while being fluid. We can’t give ALL the details, only the important ones. Just like novels, shorts have to have three-dimensional characters, back story, and plot, but in a much smaller box. It teaches us to cut the crap we don’t need for sake of word count. Could you imagine turning your trilogy into one, 2,000 word short story? Try it.
My Granddad likes to say: “If it doesn’t look good in black and white, it doesn’t look good in color.” I am going to apply that to writing and say: “If you can’t write a good short story, you can’t write a good novel.”
Today, I dare you to write a short story. Few magazines consider this to be no more than 10,000 words. Most magazines consider it to be no more than 3,000 words. If you’re like me, your shorts will find a range around 5,000. Whatever the length you decide, your story absolutely has to have the following:
- 3-D Characters with real lives
- Back Story
- Plot and Conflict
- Beginning, Middle, and End
- Climax and Resolution
I recently came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to write a huge novel to be a good writer. I think a lot of people are stuck inside of this box where society has placed them. If you aren’t sure that writing shorts–or even poetry—will give you a good name, think about this: Stephen King is well-known for his shorts, most of which have been turned into movies. Ever heard of The Shawshank Redemption? The Secret Window? Thinner? Stand by Me? These are just a few movies based on his shorts: “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” “Thinner,” and “The Body.”
If you think that writing a short is a quick “job” or if you think it makes you meek compared to the Harry Potter series, let Horton–a character from a famous short story–speak within your mind:
A writer’s a writer, no matter how small.