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The Art of A Short Story

January 24, 2011

By Benjamin Solah

When I was eighteen, I decided to take writing ‘seriously’ – whatever that meant. And like so many others, I began to focus on short fiction. I thought that it would be a good place to start before attempting the notorious novel when I was sure to be much more experienced.

I was yet to discover that the art of the short story is a much finer art and one that requires much more work to really get right, but I still think that there is some value in using the shorter form. You get to try out different things without investing as much time as you would writing a novel.

You can take this to the next level with flash fiction. Things like [Fiction] Friday and #FridayFlash have allowed me to experiment writing small flash pieces most Fridays and getting feedback. A number of writers have reported similar benefits, and improvements to their writing.

One thing I like about flash fiction is that I can just throw my characters right into the middle of a scene. There is no build up, long back stories or explanations. Sometimes you hint at bits and pieces or leave it up to the reader to assume or decide for themselves. It gives you much more license to get to the heart of the story.

Now working on a 1,500 word piece as part of the literary mixtape, ‘Nothing (But Flowers)’, the lessons from flash fiction open up new questions and issues to negotiate. I see no need for the build up and the back story. I want to get straight to it. And even with this story idea, there is too much to fit in 1,500 words even if I wanted to.

The question becomes: where to start the story? How far in do I go? How much back story do I reveal and how? This particular piece is complicated by me knowing what happens between the characters but knowing less about the actual physical events. If you ask yourself this, it might be much easier, but nevertheless, it’s a question I think we should all ask ourselves before our first drafts but often in the editing stage where we discovered we can start the story much later.

A short story can be strengthened by condensing the point of the story and the events to perhaps one, maybe two, scenes. Less happening and in more detail ought to help you pack a punch and get right to the point.

Benjamin Solah later discovered where to start his piece and what happens, partly thanks to writing this post. He hopes you enjoy the resulting piece and others when Nothing (But Flowers) is released on Valentine’s Day.

Benjamin describes himself as a ‘Marxist Horror Writer’ and aside from writing fiction and performing confronting poetry around Melbourne, he runs a blog where he mixes opinions about words with opinions about the world. You can also find him procrastinating on Twitter.

  1. January 24, 2011 6:22 am

    thanks for being a guestwriter again Benjamin.

  2. January 24, 2011 7:02 am

    Edgar Allan Poe said a short story should strive to create “the single effect,” a single emotional impact that imparts a flash of understanding, though both impact and understanding may be complexity. People like short stories because they raise a single “what if” question, while a novel may raise many.

  3. January 25, 2011 5:14 pm

    Interesting post. I like writing short stories. It’s kind of manageable, something I can get finished within a limited amount of time. But of course, I know that now everyone write short stories like Hemmingway and Doris Lessing >:)

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