short story scope

Last night at crit group I was fed some of my own medicine. You'll hear this short story editor (and others) talk about the scope of short stories. The short form is a keyhole glimpse of a larger world.

Scope doesn't actually refer to length. (Though my fellow editor Dave's advice to rewrite three times and submit the shortest one is right on.) We have a piece up for our next issue that's as tight as we ever see--and it's 5500 words. Scope just means that short stories tackle the battle, not the war.

I was fed that same line (with sugar) last night by my fellow editors about one of my own short stories. "Look," they said, "you've got this really interesting action/reaction buried in the middle of all this larger world stuff. Narrow your focus down to that and then you've really got something."

That action/reaction is the very thing that propels the character into his new life, though I personally found the extraneous stuff more interesting. I realized that the first and last scenes were acting as prologue and epilogue for the character (a character in a set of linked stories), but not necessarily for this particular story. In a short story we don't have to see the fruit the conflict bears. The story can stop at the final reaction. Interestingly enough, they thought I was telling two stories in one. They found the extra bits interesting as well, just not related enough to the main plot to suit the short form. I see now that I thought they were linked--and they are linked--but more by the setting than by the plot.

One of them also thinks I should build out this world and stories into a novel with multiple protags. It's an intriguing idea, though I really can't feature an overarching plot right now. Maybe someday.

No comments: