Often, when I talk about how to write a short story, I get caught up in talking about traditional, narrative tales that might be structured in a similar way to a novel.
But one of the things I love about short fiction is its ability to transcend that and be so much more (or less-but-more, perhaps).
This story, A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf, is a lovely example of that.
Less than 700 words long, this story is far from a straightforward narrative. Though you could argue that it has a beginning, a middle and an end, along with suspense and characters, it is definitely not bound by the rules of “rising action”, “character arcs” or any of that other stuff.
It is poetic and dense and must be read slowly.
But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling—what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound.
The reader must read slowly in order to piece together what is going on at all. And sometimes that’s OK.
Short story readers tend to like the puzzle. They tend to be, along with poetry readers, much more willing to linger over the language, and to respect the spaces the author leaves. They like not being spoon-fed.
In your next short story, could you write a more poetic, or more puzzling, tale? YOU should know all the answers to the questions in the story (after you finish it), but perhaps you can leave some of them open to interpretation.
Showing the story to trusted readers is a good way for you to gauge whether or not you have hit the right amount of ‘missing info’ to ‘hints’. But remember, your first readers should be people who already love short stories and are willing to search for the meaning. If most of your writing friends are novelists with no patience for short fiction, seek out some poets!
Do you like stories like this? Do you prefer short stories to be more like mini-novels? Leave a comment…