So I have been writing stories this summer, or trying to, and have published a few very short ones (100 words each) on this blog.
It might be good to consider what I mean by a “story” and whether a passage as short as 100 words can make the grade.
My definition is traditional. A story is a usually a narrative, and usually focuses on a character who is facing a problem, a challenge or a conflict. In a strong story, the challenge somehow defines the character. Or, rather, how the character responds to the challenge defines him or her.
To put it another way, at the core of every story is a character who needs to make a decision, who needs to act. The character may or may not understand the situation and the need for action. Or the character may try to squirm out of making a real decision. A fully developed story shows the character, the situation, the actions, and the resolution. In a 100 word story, you may not get all of that, but you get a glimpse.
I say a story is usually a narrative — a recounting of a sequence of events — but I believe a story always at least suggests a narrative, even when it technically might not be such a recounting. So on the surface, the story could seem to be a static description of a scene, say, but the description could imply a sequence of events focusing on a character facing a conflict or problem.
In the many stories, there are layers of conflicts, and the most interesting conflict may lie in the character him or herself. For instance, in the first 100-word story that I published here, “The Paris Sky,” there are at least three conflicts. One is between the narrator and the owner of the hotel. One is between the narrator and his wife. But one is also within the narrator. He is unable to let go, to enjoy the moment, to fully experience Paris while he is there. (That, anyway, is my after-the-fact reading of the story.)
In genre fiction, the problem or conflict is well-defined and of a certain type (the type required by the particular genre). The main character takes action that eventually resolves the problem or conflict. The resolution is clear.
In literary fiction, everything is less clear, less predictable. The resolution may be ambiguous.
In longer stories — that is, longer than 100 words — I think it’s important to plant a dramatic question in the reader’s mind as early as possible. How will this situation turn out for the main character? The longer the story, the stronger the dramatic question needs to be. It helps if the stakes are high, too.
This is what I have in mind for a “story.”