The Bones of Short Story

Last night, we came across “The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams. Better known to us as a poet, we had not read this piece. He wrote the story using fewer than 1200 words. Some might call this story flash fiction, or short-short story, rather than short fiction. As writers and readers get to know the flash fiction form, a question arises: “what is considered short story?

“The Use of Force” includes the classical elements of a story – character, setting, plot, conflict and theme – like other short stories. The same literary techniques employed by novelists are accessed and utilized by writers of short story. Short story, like novels, cuts across genre and serves all categories of literature. At this point, there is little to no distinction between flash fiction and short story.

Short story encounters difficulties when pressed for a definition. A  narrative piece of fiction under fifty pages is considered a short story. That is a basic line of determination. We have already discovered that the form is flexible enough to be useful in other genres, so it seems what a  short story is comes down to the size of the piece.

Writers have managed to condense stories that could be full length novels into shorter pieces. Short story conveys narrative on a smaller scale. Flash fiction does the same thing, but as we have seen, it is more extreme. Short story has a bit more room for character development and the establishment of plot, setting, conflict, and theme. Short story is too long for flash fiction and too short to be a novella or a novel. Essentially, short story is a brief narrative. The magic of it, well, that is another story.

Next week we will delve further into the high points of the form and how writers have utilized it to make great art.

What do you read short stories?


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