Picking a Time

When we’re writing short fiction the time frame is important, not only from a narrative standpoint but also because we only have a limited number of words to cover the time. This means that if we were to have the story cover a long period of time we might need more telling because the word count wouldn’t lend itself to lots of scenes spread across this period. This doesn’t mean that telling would be the only way to cover a long period of time but it’s worth bearing in mind. Another way to do it is to pick a key moment and use that to tell the story.

However, a common worry with the single scene approach is that there won’t be enough going on in a scene, and therefore the story, to keep the reader interested. The opposite can be true of the multi-scene approach where a writer tries to fit too much into the story rather than allow each scene enough space to tell the story. Either approach can create a satisfying story, it’s matter of finding the balance between too much and not enough. Key to finding the balance is to remember we’re writing a short story, this may seem obvious but writers sometimes forget expectations of a short story and a novel are different. In a short story the reader will happily follow the protagonist through a five page conversation if it’s interesting and tells a story and it doesn’t have to be a big story. A short story can easily be a story about that time they lost their keys and couldn’t get into the house and the trouble that ensued. While not impossible it might be harder to make this into a novel because it could be difficult to find enough narrative in the primary story to fill seventy-thousand words, we’d probably need various subplots and secondary characters. In a short story we can keep this story simpler with a basic, ‘I’ve lost my keys, how will I get into the house?’ or ‘I’ve lost my keys, how will I find them?’

Another variation is to have a surface story that tells a metaphoric story in this case ‘I’ve lost my keys, how will I find them?’ can become a metaphor for life. A quick search will reveal thousands of articles written on meanings of stories even very short simple ones. I’ve read various articles on different interpretations of Little Red Riding Hood and that’s a very short story. However, the downfall of this approach is that the metaphor we attempt to imbue in a story is not necessarily the one people will read. A story about lost keys could have a hundred different meanings to a hundred different people or it could just be a story about lost keys.

A lot of short stories, plays, or films, have been interpreted to have deep metaphors which isn’t always what the writer intended. As we’ve discussed before Samuel Beckett, whose writings are often poured over by academics for hidden meanings, said that he focused on rhythm over meaning. A good short story can have a simple meaning, for instance a couple arguing over how to decorate a room can be an interesting story. In one scene we can show a lot about the couple by how they’re arguing and what they’re arguing about and how they do or don’t find resolution, in one argument we can imply what their entire relationship is like.

This is where exposition versus implication comes in because we have to build this story, however small or large the time period, to get the most story into the fewest words.


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Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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1 Comment

  1. This is good advice to follow. I know I get caught up in trying to have a slew of scenes covering a certain amount of time, hence leading to shorter lengths. But again, maybe I don’t need to worry about a wife amount of time in so many scenes. I have to decide the right amount of time using the right amount of scenes, and that can be tricky.

    Liked by 1 person

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