Short Stories

I have been an avid follower of the short story all my adult life with The ‘Best American Short Stories’ series serving as an anchoring point. Turning to Australia, I regard Tim Winton as a master of the short story form, the way in which he captures mood and drama in the quietest of brush strokes, and how he uncannily shifts a seed of yearning from story character to story reader. ‘The Turning’ was memorable by virtue of the interlinked nature of the narratives as they dipped and swirled uneasily through the seaside town of Angeles.

Below are a few useful definitions of story culled from my shelves of books on the subject.

Hallie and Whit Burnett say a short story must have: character/s; action and a revelation of what happens; background, mood, physical setting; focus and point of view; a high point of happening; a plot with underlying meaning; a distinct manner of writing; fewer than 9000 words.’

Rust Hills sees the short story as having two particular components. ’First a short story tells of something that happened to someone. Second, the successful contemporary short story will demonstrate a more harmonious relationship of all its aspects than will any other literary art form…’ He goes on to say that ‘the first statement distinguishes the story from the sketch, the second distinguishes it from the novel.’

Rick DeMarinis says that  ‘the short story at its best examines a pivotal moment in a life, whether it is one of spiritual crisis or domestic ennui, with an unflinching gaze.’

Jerome Stern says, ‘A story is what happens to the reader…something that’s emotionally and intellectually moving enough to have some gravity, some weight, some sense of significance. By happens [he] means makes an impression, causes a reaction, precipitates a thought, creates a mood. A story makes readers feel that they have had an experience, whether the story’s form is traditional or strange, whether the narrator explains its meaning or lets it lie on the plate…. The [true] test for a story lies in its effect, not in its mood.’