Short fiction is a genre that has interested me casually since middle school, when we had to read a few of Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories. I was struck by how complex a story Poe was able to tell in such a small amount of pages. This is one of the principal ways that a good short story writer uses their talent. The challenge of writing a short story is bringing readers to the emotional highs and lows achieved in any form of art with a limited number of words. Characters can’t have their backstories explained in full depth. Relationships can’t be illustrated with dozens of dialogues and stories.
Short fiction does offer some unique opportunities as a writer; the genre has a flexibility that isn’t enjoyed by essayists, novelists, or even filmmakers. The genre’s brevity can be its strength. The story “Are We Not Men?” by T. C. Boyle explores a science fiction scenario where animals and people can have their DNA edited. The concept is explored only as far as it is important for the story. The characters are outlined and then thrown together in expressive, minimal scenes that form a compelling piece of writing. “The Presentation on Egypt” by Camille Bordas is another good example that takes a similar approach. Two or three characters are explored mostly through their interactions and thoughts in the moment of the narrative. Backstory and flashbacks are absent. Short stories are immediate. For the most part, they tell their stories through expressive moments. This is my favorite thing about the genre. When reading one of these pieces, it feels like spending time with the characters rather than hearing someone tell a story about them. It’s more intimate, human, and real.
The genre’s flexibility also allows for some creative literary use of language. Quotation marks and other punctuation can be left out or overused. Sentences don’t always carry a subject and a predicate. These features would no doubt be tiresome were they to last for an entire novel, but in a short story, they serve to change the way the reader processes the story without sentencing them to a long and potentially confusing read.