The Long and the Short of the Short Story

I wanted to submit a short story to a magazine that has a limitation of 1300 words on the prose it accepts. All of my short stories are nearly 3000 words or more. I assumed a well-developed story requires a minimum of about ten pages, going by the yardstick of about three pages each for complication, climax, and denouement.  I derive my assumption about the minimum length for a good short story from such memorable stories as Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” which is about 3271 words and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” which is about 3779 words.

Flash fiction and short-short stories do not appeal to me.  A story of less than 3000 words is like eating a sandwich with only one slice of lunch meat and no cheese, lettuce, or tomato.  The upper limit of a short-short story is probably 1000 words. Some editors slice the definition of a short-short further by defining flash fiction as less than 750 words and sudden fiction as less than 1000 words or some such variation. The term micro-fiction has been coined for a piece less than 350 words. I found the task of writing a short-short story, however it’s sliced, daunting.  Setting aside my preconceptions about length of a short story, I accepted the challenge to write a story of only 1300 words.

The two stories of this length that I produced may not be memorable, but I succeeded in preserving the fictional elements of character, complication, conflict, and resolution.  Details can be pared away to keep the bare bones. I’ve proven that I can do it, but I still don’t like the minimalist approach.  Hopelessly old-fashioned, I guess I read too many Victorian novels when I was young.  Nevertheless, after trying my hand at short-shorts, I now appreciate the quick gratification of flash fiction, a natural outgrowth of the visual media. Short-shorts are to fiction what haiku is to poetry.


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