I’ve never written a short story, but it’s been on my bucket list for an embarrassingly long time.
I want to use short stories in two ways — to give readers of my novels some pithy backstory “bonus feature” tidbits, and to perhaps encourage new readers to give my novels a try.
But I’ve been struggling with this. Every idea I have is too big, involves too many characters. People who know of such things have told me (repeatedly) the “rules” of short story writing — limited characters; limited plot; no backstory; establish character, setting and plot within the first paragraph or so; beginning, middle, and end; satisfying ending, perhaps with a twist — but nobody has successfully told me how, exactly, to do all of that in 5,000 words.
So I struggle.
Until the other day when I finshed a workout and had on my “Stretching Music” playlist.
Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” came on.
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw. I’ve gone to look for America. “Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping. “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America.
That there is a short story, locking me into Pigeon Pose for the entire three minutes and thirty-three seconds duration. Knowing I had to stretch my other hip flexor, I rearranged myself, mulling and probing this esoteric new concept.
Next, “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel came on and blew my mind the rest of the way. An entire story in 200 words. I’ve heard this song forty-leven bajillion times and never had this epiphany. (If you don’t know this song, stop reading right now and have a listen. It’s quite possibly my favorite song of all time.)