The modern short story is a work of art, relatively short, with an elaborate structure, an interest in time and space, having an emotional impact, and a consciousness of style. The traditional elements of short stories, like the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and epilogue are not always observed by modern authors. Their works are more flexible in structure, more expansive in their content and theme, and more expressive in style.

Edgar Allen Poe’s works, forerunners of today’s short stories, set the formal characteristics of this genre: the story was to be short, able to be read in a single sitting so as to give a unity of impression by focusing on one isolated incident in the life of a character, or in one character’s relationship with another. An atmosphere is created in which the characters live, breathe, and function, which, in turn, creates an emotion. The unity of impression is the most important characteristic of a modern short story. It builds an intense emotional climate in which all the elements of the story converge to create the climax, and finally, the falling action and conclusion.

The action is another important element of the short story. Something must happen, no matter how small. The story must bring you from Point A to Point B to ensure its value as an art form. The short story’s internal structure determines the significance of the different elements, both technical and artistic [themes, symbols, images], which distinguish its genre from other narrative forms. Point of view is instrumental in the unfolding of the narrative as it determines the climate in which the story takes place.

Due to the brevity of a short story, you must make every word count. The introduction should create the interest and the emotional tone of the narrative for you. You must set the scene, describe the atmosphere, determine the time, and get the characters moving.

The exposition presents the conflict around which the story takes place. This conflict could be between characters, between characters and society, between characters and nature, or within the soul of the main character. The exposition’s tension leads to the climax. The change that occurs determines the falling action. The falling action is given great intensity by the converging of all the elements of the short story toward it. Occasionally, in a short story where the atmosphere is the most important element, the falling action is relatively weak.

The modern short story’s strength rests on its effectiveness as a microcosm of society with well-defined limits, along with its great intensity and completeness. The success of your short story depends upon the ability of the narrator to manipulate the technical elements of the short story. For instance, in the short story Novocaine there are three identifiable POVs. In fact, most of my short stories have more than one POV. For the simple reason that (I believe) you cannot truly explore the emotions, instincts and thought patterns of numerous characters if you cannot go into their minds, and First-Person narrative would not give you this insight. In a sense, there are no sacrosanct rules in short story writing. The only rule, if you can call it that, is that the reading time of your short story should be a major determining factor when you write.

Edgar Allen Poe, often considered the father of the short story, states in the Philosophy of Composition that the most powerful expression of emotion must be experienced in ONE SITTING. When you interrupt the reading you take away from the impact of the EMOTION and or MESSAGE. Therefore, the short story writer, like the poet, is much more concerned with the human EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE as opposed to the HUMAN SOCIAL and/or PHILOSOPHICAL EXPERIENCE.[1]

In order to accomplish this, short story writers will often leave off one part or over-emphasize one part of the plot structure. A typical plot involves exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Some short stories, like Home Brew completely ignore resolution in order to emphasize exposition, and therefore characters. home brew is not about what happens, it is about what the characters experience. Other stories skip exposition all together, giving no background to the characters, which allows you to focus on conflict. the urge part iv is a good example of this. Some short stories simply concentrate on exposition, leaving you, the reader, to reason the issue out. gray matter is a good example of this. Some short stories talk about human failings and our inability to negotiate the life-force, and therefore focus on the falling action. novocaine is a good example of this. Yet some stories focus on the resolution but take in a bit of the exposition, rising action, climax, and the falling action. still waters – kudos to nani exemplifies such stories. Above all, every short story writer is a social commentator, as such, your short story must make a social commentary, be it the psychological scars of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (silence), the mental anguish of abortion (wake me … wame), our inability to express our deepest feelings (novocaine) or coming to terms with terminal illnesses (second journey).

I guess you are reading this because you are either an avid reader of literature or an aspiring writer. Whichever you are, there are certain essential qualities, in the writing, that makes a short story a worthwhile pastime – the first is brevity. A story that rambles on for several dozens of pages is likely to be considered a novella, and defeats the purpose of a untised emotional experience that you should get from every good short story. The next two qualities – singleness of effect and a limited number of characters – I have already talked about above. The only thing to add here is that a good short story must get to one point quickly with a few characters. Then there is issue of dialogue. The major difference between a drama text and a short story is dialogue – drama depends heavily on dialogue for the same reasons I believe a short story does. Therefore, the use of realistic, pithy dialogue is important to a short story because it serves the same two purposes as dialogue does in drama: it advances the plot rapidly and describes the characters by the way they speak. No matter how much you describe the physical attributes of your character, your readers mostly form a picture of the characters based on their dialogue. This brings me once more to the salient question, what constitutes a good short story?

When you come to think of it, this is a difficult question to answer, and the reason is simple, and I repeat: there are no rules to a good short story. Unlike most trades or science, creative writing is not verbal brick-laying and as such cannot be learned because it is an art. As a shrt story writer, your world consists of dreams, fantasies, memories, hallucinations, hopes, fears, phobias, compulsions and other aspects of the inner life – all of which are not governed by logic. No short story writer focuses on rules because what a short story writer experiences is more like a trance than an act of consciousness. According to Paul Theroux, the only way to write a good short story (like it has not been written before) is to rely on the uniqueness of your own perspective and life experiences. Psychologically speaking, each person lives in a different world. To write an interesting short story requires a temporary suspension of ordinary consciousness to tap into that world for inspiration. As a man, I have never aborted before or can even get to do so, thanks to biology, but wake me … wame is about abortion from the perspective of a woman and the unborn child.

My advice, therefore, is, practice. Practice will make you a better short story writer, and be prepared for the basic truth – you will write some bad stories before you ever learn how to write a good one. Never quit – as a teacher of literature, I have seen many new writers get discouraged and quit writing because they were unable to turn a bad idea into a good story. Know this, the art of the short story is really the art of getting in touch with bits of your inner self and learning how to share that experience withyour readers. Now, share my experience!

[1] This does mean he/she cannot write on human social and/or philosophical experience as some of the short stories included in these notes will elucidate.