The Writer’s Journey is a column dedicated to different styles of writing and the exploration of one writer’s path to publication.

Written by Samantha House

What do these pieces of writing share in common?

“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
“The Tell-tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Yes, every title begins with the, but more importantly, they are all well-known short stories. In the previous article in this series on writing styles, we discussed two of the longest forms of creative writing – novels and novellas –  but for some, writing that involves a five-digit word count is not for you. This might be a better fit!

Short stories and their even shorter brother, flash fiction, are styles many a-writer struggles with, preferring, instead, to build stories that are epic in scale with characters who are deep, conflicted, and relatable  – not stopping at just one incident or overarching theme.  That doesn’t mean, that short stories and flash fiction can’t incorporate those elements, but it is considerably more challenging to do so. Allow me to explain.

Elements of a Short Story

Short stories, like their lengthier counterparts, have a plot and characters, themes and real-world applications, but what differentiates them is their length. A short story is one that can be read in a single sitting or, if you prefer specific numbers, usually between 1,000 – 4,000 words (which is, by no means, a hard and fast rule). Some writing competitions, like the ServiceScape Short Story Award, require 5,000 words or more to be considered “in the running” but are still labelled as short story contests.

To illustrate the point further, take for example Edith Wharton’s “Souls Belated,” which comes in at 10,669 words, and H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” which is a staggering 33,015 words! It seem difficult to consider those short stories based on their word count alone, but they have still been listed as such.

Most iconic among short stories, however, are their endings. While novels and novellas depend on character development and weaving various sub-plots together to convey a single and clearly-discernible message, short stories usually end abruptly and are well-known to leave the reader with an unresolved feeling. The limits on space ensure that short stories focus less on character- and plot-driven story lines and more on a very specific moment in time. In essence, short stories are a great option for communicating a brief tale about an event with limited embellishment. If “to the point” is more your style, though, then flash fiction is where you’ll find your niche.

Flash fiction

Flash fiction uses even fewer words – typically 1,000 or less – to tell an imagined story. Character(s) and plot are still present, but no time or words are wasted on development: a point must be made, and it must be made soon!

Perhaps you’ve heard of the flash fiction better known as Aesop’s Fables. ”The Tortoise and The Hare,” “The Farmer and The Snake,” “The Astronomer” and close to 300 other stories are all examples of flash fiction as recorded by Aesop. Short, to the point, and needing nothing beyond plot and character basics to tell a tale.

You might be new to the world of creative writing, or maybe you’re looking to branch out from the comfortable confines of poetic ponderings. Either way, flash fiction is a great place to start your journey, because they are not complicated, and like most short stories, they are centered around one event allowing you the freedom to explore different perspectives surrounding said event and the various ways you can illustrate it.

 

All that said, you might be surprised to learn, that there are other forms of abbreviated writing that are even shorter than short stories and flash fiction. Six-, eight-, and nine-word stories are the latest craze in our social-media-based worlds, but more on those forms in the next article.

Stayed tuned, though, because we are hosting our very first competition, and it will concern the six-, eight-, and nine-word stories. We’re pretty excited about it, and you won’t want to miss out, because up for grabs is a copy of You/Poet, written by our founder, Rayna, and our Editor in Chief, Samuel. It’s a fantastic book all about poetry and how you can improve your writing craft – something we can all appreciate, right?

For now, though, have a fantastically creative day!

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