Tuesday 30 June 2009

What is a good short story?

I found a post on Emma Newman's blog on what makes a good short story. As short stories have so far been my weapon of choice, I thought I'd give the matter some consideration. After all, I've read far more than I've ever written, and in some ways, I prefer the short story to the novel for its brevity. Short stories are far more difficult to sabotage - a good idea in a novel is all to easy to hijack and turn into a ridiculous flight of fancy (ever read Dreamcatcher?), but with a short story, you feel compelled to do the idea justice as you're with it for such a short period of time.

I've read some brilliant stories. I think my favourite short story ever written is Chivalry by Neil Gaiman - it's delightful in every possible way. It's also the first thing I ever read by him. It's short, it's to the point, and yet he manages to capture a little snapshot of an idea, complete with characterisation and a sense of place.

Yet ultimately, I like stories that grab the attention with a wonderful first line, stories that transport you to another person's reality or imagination for a short time, and stories that take me away from the mundane constraints of everyday life. A good short story, for me, should be like a little holiday.


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