A great short story
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
June 22, 2019
A great short story dangles a mood or theme, like bait. It immediately catches the eye and the imagination. Sometimes our hearts. But it must do so quickly, with the speed of light or, in this fast paced world, readers move on.
As with poetry, each and every word counts. The writer looks for the most precise all encompassing words to draw readers in and capture them completely, with memorable characters and themes, ranging from the ordinary to extraordinary. They nail the voice, set the plot on high speed with a minimum of 1,500 words, maximum of 30,000.
“How Does Your Garden Grow?” a short story by Betsy Beaton written in 1946, draws the reader in by introducing a boy orphaned by World War, now parented by an older grandfather and being bullied and taunted by his insensitive schoolmates. And then the boy wakes up with green hair!
Chased into the woods by his peers after school, he sees a vision of orphaned children of war telling him his green hair can make a difference in the world. Send a message. But the adults surrounding him at home take him to the local barbershop. As the buzz of the shaver sounds in the quiet of the room, the reader is left to wonder if the unexpected green hair has made any difference at all? How do we get the attention of a community, a society, a world, amidst horrors and tragedy?
A whole story encapsulated in 30,000 words or less ignites the imagination and hopefully the conscience. You may recognize this story from an old movie played by Pat O’Brien as the grandfather and a young Dean Stockwell as “The Boy With the Green Hair.” Often times, short stories make the perfect setting for a full fledged movie.
Edgar Alan Poe said of crafting the short story, “A picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of fullest satisfaction.” And then Poe leaves us readers with “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Tell -Tale Heart.” Where was he leading us? To the darker side, you say?
Hemingway’s short stories are less dark, but no less deep, making the reader think, reject or embrace. His short story writing struggled with despair in “A Clean, Well Lighted Place,” and left readers questioning with “Hills Like White Elephants.” Was the woman sick? Did she need treatment? Was she in denial? Hemingway always brings us deep into the human psyche, but with great settings from around the world to enjoy.
If you like fright, “Flight or Fright” edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent, offers a collection of stories that can get under your skin, by a variety of short story writers. Did you know Stephen King is afraid to fly? Find out why in this collection, by Stephen himself in his personal contribution.
For lighter fair, you might enjoy short stories for children where you will find many of your old favorites like Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood and Aesop’s Tales. Children’s book writers have mastered the art of the short story because their readers demand and thrive on fast paced, well-written and precise themes.
Short stories are found within the pages of each new picture book printed these days, to the delight of both children and adults. They provide immediate satisfaction on so many levels.
Picture book short stories tackle both serious themes and strike the funny bone with equal strength. One of my favorites is “The Old Woman Who Names Things” by Cynthia Rylant. A story that appears to show a crazy old woman who names her house and her car and her furniture, but in reality, reveals she is desperately lonely. A dog shows her the way to friendship.
One of the best kinds of writing happens when an author utilizes the art of the short story and then composes the novel of a lifetime. Such is the writing in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Within those pages are multiple short stories that could stand alone, but are stacked one on top of the other, full of setting that draws you in, characters that charm and disarm, the very smell of cornbread and homemade biscuits wafting through your brain.
Then your moral compass is captured with life and death tragedies. You feel so much. You want the characters to succeed. You want to be that kind of hero. The stacking of short stories teeters and rocks, but never falls. Until maybe the ending, when you are ready for it.
A skyscraper of a story you might enjoy again!
*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.