A short story can be likened to the high-achieving novel’s little sister—still finding her feet, still establishing her voice, still waiting to be noticed. Although there is no exact definition as to how long a short story should be, the general consensus is that a short story is meant to be read in one sitting and can be anywhere between 1,000 and 30,000 words, with most falling in the 4,000 to 7,000 wordcount mark. Despite what the brevity of the pages may infer, however, short stories are deceptively complex and powerful forms of literary prose (we may be a bit biased around here in the MRP office). Within a limited span of time, the author is expected to engross readers from the first moment of interaction and to sustain their attention. There is no time for waffling or hyperbole; every single word is crucial and sentences are carefully crafted to ensure maximum impact.
With that being said, we decided to ask some of our favourite short story writers the important question: What makes a good short story?
In a good short story we understand why this particular moment, or series of moments, is critical to the protagonist’s life.
Also: Things must happen.
Also: Let the reader do a bit of heavy lifting.
This is what a short story writer strives to do: say more, with less, always.
A memorable short story is both economical and evocative, brief but resonant, short but not superficial. It creates the illusion of more worlds and experiences beyond the relatively few words on the page.
A good short story is a world in itself, one that the reader can hold entire in their mind as they read. It begins at the perfect moment for beginning and ends at the perfect moment for ending (and the middle has to be pretty good too).
A good short story is a tone, a thought, a feeling. It’s showing the absolute minimum that you need to show to get your character from fixed to broken, bent to buckled, or deeper down into a state from which they’ve already entered.
What makes a good short story for YOU?