Small Craft Warning: Writing the Short Story

September 2, 2015

Remember when you found out Santa Claus wasn’t real?  (I know, I’m still getting over the shock.)  Well, I’m about to burst the bubble on another one of your beliefs.

The Short Story

In the age of digital publishing when a writer needs to feed the beast that is Amazon in order to stay relevant, the short story has taken on a different meaning than it once held.

Short stories are now used as filler to keep an author ranking higher in search engine algorithms in between books.

That’s the honest truth of it.  The art of the short story has seen a revolution since the days of John Cheever and Ernest Hemingway.  The short story has been reduced to a promotional tool, an implement used by writers to stay at the forefront of the reader’s mind.

What This Means for the Writer

To Be a Spy Cover_Jessie Clever_AREI write this blog post as a word of caution to writers: just because it’s a promotional tool, a short story is still a work of the writing craft and needs to be treated as such.

A short story is like any other writing piece in that it must contain goal, motivation, and conflict.  It must fulfill a promise to the reader.  (Every writing piece is a contract between writer and reader remember.  If a writer fails to deliver on the contract, the writing piece is a wash.)  The short story must contain three acts: the set up, the antithesis, and the synthesis.  Whether you use Blake Snyder’s BS2 sheet or K.M. Weiland’s outline for a novel, all of the elements of a story must be contained in a period of less than 10,000 words.

The short story is not a simple tool to be used only in promotion.  It is a vehicle for delivering a piece of a much larger story or perhaps a vignette that doesn’t lend itself to a full novel.  Whichever the case may be, do not bastardize the short story because of the advancement of technology.  Do not use it simply as a tool to keep selling books.

Recall the first time you read Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, and realize your obligation to the reader.

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