What’s A Short Story?

One writing site I follow recently held a contest: “Write a short story in 500 words or less.” As I read through the various submissions this morning, part of the problem for me was thinking a story is always fiction. However, this contest called for a non-fiction story. So I read brief memoirs, rambling musings about life, possible devotional articles, but few submissions that I’d consider a real STORY.

Am I off-base in my understanding of STORY? There are a number of weekly writing challenges I do participate in that call for writing a story in xxx words, so it’s good to get a handle on the concept, even if I didn’t enter this contest.

Image from Pixabay

According to GRAMMARLY’s website, “Short stories are a form of narrative writing that has all the same elements as novels—plot, character development, point of view, story structure, theme—but are delivered in fewer words. … A short story is a short, self-contained work of fiction…”

And I see the ubiquitously quoted “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.”

Writer L Ron Hubbard gives good pointers on how to critique a short story: You need to judge the originality, the scene-setting, characterization, conflict and plot, a theme. It should be engaging and deliver some emotional payoff.

The Ragtag Daily Prompt for today is BRIDGE and I think it fits in today’s musing.

A short story should create a BRIDGE between a writer and a reader. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I need to reach out through my own – or my character’s – experience and touch your heart. It may be only a little chuckle, a small example of the human nature we all share, or a bit of sorrow.

Image by Josch13 — Pixabay

If I write about the time our family went to the zoo, saw the polar bears, watched the antics of the monkeys, had a great time, and came home, will that touch your heart?

If our beloved Jr disappeared at the zoo and we searched frantically to find him, that experience could easily be crafted into a story and would resonate with all parents. If I had to tell it in 100 words or less, that would take a lot of whittling! There wouldn’t be a lot of room to develop scene or theme, but it could be done.

Stories, especially short ones, need to start with a bang. No “Our family was at the zoo one sunny morning in mid-July. We were watching the polar bears splashing around in their pool when our I noticed that our son had disappeared in the crowd.”

Rather…
We watched the polar bears splashing so comically in their pool. I turned to lift my six-year-old so he could see more of their antics…and he’d disappeared!
“Frank,” I screamed over the noise of the other tourists, “Where’s Junior?”
Frank whirled around. “Junior! Where are you,” he shouted as we both scanned the crowd frantically.

Most readers would easily get the picture and feel some connection to this couple.

Anyway, enough of my musings. What do you see as the elements of an engaging short story? Do you like upbeat, happy endings? Or are you one who likes being left with a haunting melancholy when you’re done?

Lengthy Lines

Editorial Trivia

As you will know if you’ve been reading my recent posts, I started doing the weekly Six Sentence Story challenges. And it is indeed a challenge to get a tale stated tersely enough to fit into six sentences. However, I’ve just started reading a story published in 1907: The Red Thumb Mark. This is the first story in a collection called The Austen Freeman Mega-pack and it can be bought as a single story from Amazon Kindle.

Dr. Richard Austin Freeman, April 1862 – Sept 1943, was a British writer of detective stories, mostly featuring the medico-legal forensic investigator Dr. Thorndyke. In the story I’m reading, Dr Thorndyke is trying to prove how an innocent man’s bloody thumb-print turned up so conveniently at the scene of a theft.

I’ve run into some delightfully mega-layered sentences! If I’d adopt this writer’s style, I could easily get a story told in six sentences. I’ve also come across several words that, if I ever read them before, I’ve forgotten.

Exhibit A: Example of five multi-clause sentences:

“Why should you expect that?” I demanded, reddening somewhat, I suspect, as I met his twinkling eye. There was something rather disturbing in the dry, quizzical smile that I encountered and the reflection that I had been under observation, and I felt as much embarrassed as I should suppose a self-conscious water-flea might feel on finding itself on the illuminated stage of a binocular microscope.

“My dear fellow,” said Thorndyke, “you have not spoken a word for the last quarter of an hour; you have devoured your food with the relentless regularity of a sausage-machine, and you have, from time to time, made the most damnable faces at the coffee-pot — though there I’ll wager the coffee-pot was even with you, if I may judge by the presentment that it offers of my own countenance.

I roused myself from my reverie with a laugh at Thorndyke’s quaint conceit and a glance at the grotesquely distorted reflection of my face in the polished silver. “I am afraid I have been a rather dull companion this morning,” I admitted apologetically.

Intriguing words:
She said oracularly.
Oracularly means resembling an oracle. An oracle, definition 2, is a person giving wise or authoritative decisions or opinions.
I wondered what he thought of this rodomontade? A bragging speech; vain bluster or boasting.

Six-Sentence Story

I’ve taken advantage of two prompts to do my tiny tale today.
The Six-Sentence Story prompt this weekend was RAMBUNCTIOUS
The Sunday Wordle contains the following prompt words:
sunset, finish, string, spill, limit, heartbeat, trails, fairy, lacy, tick, stone, gate

And here are my six sentences, more a scene than a story, though:

“Beat you,” Andy shouted as he rushed along the narrowest of trails ahead of his sister, stepped on a conveniently placed stone and was over the fence in a heartbeat.
“Honestly, Andy, I don’t know why you’re so rambunctious this morning, but I’ve about reached my limit.”
“Come on, Lacy, don’t be a tick. Just step on that rock, spill yourself over the fence and we’ll see if some fairy has left a bit of gold in the meadow.”
“Gold indeed, you dreamer! The only gold you’ll see that way is the sunset – and maybe some buttercups in the woods as you dash through.”

Snapshots of Today

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is ABUNDANCE

Well, we have an abundance of snow, with more coming this evening. We may soon have an abundance of ice. We do have an abundance of fluctuation these days.

Yesterday morning the thermometer read -30 C. At 7:30 am this morning it read 1 C. Plus 1, that is. We had Sewing Day at church yesterday and one lady asked if an abrupt change in temp had any noticeable effect on a person’s body. Another woman replied that when the temp changes so drastically, she gets a headache. She’ll need a Tylenol today for sure.

The topic of designer fashions came up, and the question, “Does anyone actually ever wear the designer fashions you see on European runways?” Maybe, but I’m inclined to think fashion designers make their mark with the very edgy, then can put their name on more practical clothing and it sells because of the name. Or what do you think?

I had cause this morning to think about avant-garde trends and looked the term up in the dictionary, which led me to the word intelligentsia, because they are considered avante-garde. Merriam-Webster defines the avant-garde as “Intelligentsia that develops new or experimental concepts especially in the arts.” INTELLIGENTSIA are “Intellectuals who form an artistic, social, or political vanguard or elite.” The trouble is, be it fashion, political, social or artistic, TRENDY tends to walk so close to the edge of SILLY that it often slips over. 😉

Here’s my haiku on the subject:
cutting edge
the farthest
out to lunch

This morning I was reading some haiku verses and found them disappointingly avant-garde. In my opinion. I’m not a connoisseur, not really a fan of, “The verse can mean whatever you wish it to mean.” Then I checked out another online haiku journal and found quite a few verses that, though brief, are clear and make sense.

kudzu vine loving fiercely
can make perfect sense to you if you know how kudzu vines entwine around a tree and often smother their host. Would you call this a terse verse? Or a verse of any kind?

I’ve gotten the urge to work on my manuscript again and feel like I need to nail terse, one current trend in writing, so I was up late last night reading James Patterson. That writer and his ghosts have terse to a science. Not my genre at all, but I borrowed a couple of his books, one about the Kennedy clan, from my online library and read a bit from each. Here’s hoping the style will rub off.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on trends, avant-garde, micro-poetry, and terse stories. Please share them in a comment below.

Spiralling Thoughts

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is COIL.

Which of course calls to mind small coil-bound notebooks; I’ve half a dozen of these kicking around with misc verses and inspirations, abandoned or to be polished and posted someday.

I was given this small notebook as a Thank You for helping with a writers’ workshop. I immediately started filling it with haiku — a style I learned about at that workshop. It’s a cheapie but its hard cover made it easy to take along while travelling, so many impression were captured fresh from the stream. Here are some scribbles waiting to be spiffed up and posted someday.

Do you have a similar collection of scribblers holding your assorted thoughts? Maybe January’s a good month to deal with some of this under-developed inspiration? One at a time eventually gets the job done. Or, as Solomon once said, “Who hath despised the day of small things?”

Comfy Cat

Good morning everyone. It’s going to be a nice day here, with an unseasonably mild high of -9 C –16 F– if the forecast is right. And this is our FIRST DAY of the solar year, you might say: we had our shortest day yesterday so we can look forward to a few more minutes of daylight every day.

I seem to have a set amount of sleep time in my old age: more-or-less five hours. I went to bed early last night — about 11:30, that is — and woke up at 4:10 this morning. With a bit of a headache, so I decided to get up and feed the cats, have a cup of coffee, check the Ragtag Daily Prompt. Now I’m going through my Word Perfect Docs file and decided to post a few previously unpublished verses.

Here’s something that happens regularly at this office:

cat sprawls out
in the warm desk chair
writer’s coffee break

And if we want our chair back, we’ve found it’s most effective if we rustle the bag of cat treats.