Back in the day, the classic phrase we girls used to describe the perfect man was “tall, dark, and handsome” but I don’t know if girls even think that way anymore. For a while I was pretty sure the new mantra was “high, unkempt, and sensitive.” Somehow, “short, pudgy, and not-too-bright” never quite caught on. At least, not yet.
It’s kind of funny, really, the way that perception of what is desirable gets started in the first place and then changes over time. Of course, there are a few SHORTs that appeal: SHORTbread, SHORTcake, the SHORTstack. But most of the time, “short” implies something less that perfect. I’m still waiting for production of the SHORT story to become something other than a road to writing the perfect novel.
Personally, I’ve always liked to read short stories. Good ones, that is. I delight in picking up on that perfect word, the ultimate phrase that tells me who this character is and what he’s searching for. I don’t need–or want–pages and pages of text describing each hair on Sasha’s head when a well-chosen couple of words will give me a hint and let me fill in the picture in my mind.
Don’t get me wrong. I can cuddle up with a novel and spend unmoving hours letting the prose fall over me like sunshine. When the words are right, they’re right, regardless of the length of the piece.
But the short story is a precision piece of work. There is a certain finesse required to fit all the elements into a few thousand, or sometimes even a few hundred words. I know. I’ve tried it myself, and the results are mixed, at best. In the “my writing” files, I have a few things that still please me when I read them. I can also find things that I read now with a different eye. Some really do need pages added in order to define the characters so a reader can see them as I do. Most could use a more developed plot. I have no desire to turn any of them into novels.
But, wait! Have I discovered a great truth? Is “short” necessarily unpolished and undesirable?
Of course not. A wealth of great reading is available in this truncated form. It’s just the business of the writer to make it happen.
I’m working on it.
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.