Brevity makes a “short” story. But a short story is not just about length. As a genre, the short story is complex. Many other aspects, along with length decide the genome of a short story. Some of these elements are still unidentified. In fact, it is apt to say that those elements that are identified crucial elements of a short story are few in number. Short is just a metaphor, short stories are actually tall.
W. H Hudson and many other scholars, suggest that length is the crucial aspect and a story that you can read in single sitting is short story. If we take this as our measure, we cannot hail Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach or The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway or The Buddha and the Terrorist by Satish Kumar, a short story. The Old Man and the Sea might be a bit longer, but consider Jonathan Livingston Seagull; with all the photographs, that adorn the pages, it is just about fifty pages long. Many of the short stories in Stephen King’s collection, Full Dark, No Stars are longer in length, in fact longer than Jonathan Livingston Seagull, usually called a novel.
What is, then, the magic potion that delivers its spell in the making of a short story?
Let us remind ourselves, once again, that there are only “major” elements to discuss. The minor elements, still evade our attention, as they are all part of the subjectivity of the author and the wiring of creativity inside our brains.
Creative writing classes and ‘How-to’ guides often suggest many systematic steps in producing literature. The problem with such a systematic, limited academic method is its side effects—all the crap you write and all the crap you evaluate ‘wonderfully artistic and deep’. Once you are into the struggle to create stories with flesh and blood, stories that earn, you will know that the first thing you need to do should be to unload the garbage, you accumulated as a student. Practical experience makes you wiser and stronger. From my experience as a writer, I have learnt my lessons and here are a few for your consideration—the three cornerstones of short stories.
With this minimum number of components, you can create a short story. As we have already seen, the rest of the magic comes from within you, the writer. It is an alchemy, much like how Sodium and Chlorine combines to give a product, very different in quality and use from the two parent components—Sodium chloride; salt.
Next: What is Voice?
Anu Lal is the author of the up-coming collection of short stories Wall of Colors and Other Stories. He lives in Kerala, South India. He blogs at The Indian Commentator
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