1. Ice Queen
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    Ice Queen Senior Member

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    What makes a Short Story memorable?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ice Queen, May 20, 2011.

    I'm trying to get into a Creative Writing class, however there's a limited (about a dozen or so) places on it. I've been wanting this for sooo long, and the choice is soley based on the portfolio we submit for it. So I'm going to write a few short stories and choose which to send... Geez, is it okay to even ask this, I'm not sure... :/

    So what makes a short story stand out, what makes it memorable?

    I have limited space (2000 words or less in fact) and I need to make a lasting impression.

    Here's a different question: What should I not do- what are the types of things I should avoid?

    (Other than things like grammar/spelling mistakes- I can assure you that won't be a problem XD)

    Also, I obviously can't post the stories on here since it's an academic matter and I'm pretty sure getting others to help me correct it would be like cheating, lol. So this is obviously more of a general inquiry...
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    A single theme and memorable character, done well, no wasted words or elaborate descriptions. That probably isn't telling you anything you didn't already know, so what I would suggest is heading over to that section of the forum known as the writing workshop, drop into the Short Stories area, and read through some of the posted stories and the comments that follow.

    Good luck.
     
  3. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    The most memorable stories imo are character driven.

    In all stories, someone or something must change.

    Think about who and what the story is about and stick to it.

    Keep it tight.

    Check your tenses (sorry, I'm talking to myself here)

    As to what to avoid:

    Info dumps and long passages of description.
     
  4. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I definitely think that a short story has to pack a lot more punch, because you don't have the space to spread out a lot like a regular story. What makes a short story memorable for me are the characters and setting. Stories like The Cask of Amontillado or The Tell-Tale Heart are examples of that.
     
  5. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    This may not be as true as you want. Getting feedback and critique to help you write/revise the story even better is rarely, if ever, considered 'cheating.' Maybe it should be, as in some cases I've seen stories that were just so polished by other people's suggestions and re-writes that I knew the writer couldn't produce that again. But usually it's not an issue, and even encouraged, as long as you're still in control and the writer.

    Do you not already have a story written that has more time and polish into it? I don't know very many 'serious' writers who would write something new for such a submission. Usually they'd just find something they already had written and worked on it from an editing/revising standpoint, not a creation standpoint.

    I mean, when I started writing a story 4 months before the deadlines for MFA graduate programs in creative writing, people said I was crazy and should be using a story I'd been working to perfect and polish for YEARS.

    If you've been wanting this for years, I trust you've been writing for years? Do you not have anything suitable? And if it's the sort of thing where the instructor is requiring 'new' stories, then I'd second-guess the helpfulness of it, because most good fiction instruction focuses not on crapping out brand new stories, but studying the craft of writing, which means reading and revising moreso than simply producing new works as fast and as sloppily as possible.

    To answer your real question: I don't have an answer. My answer would be build a time machine, go back two or three years, maybe more, and start reading and studying short stories (and fiction in general) and start heavily writing and revising your own work in accordance to what you find from your studies. I have no clue what you've done or where you are as an author, or the rhetorical situation you're facing (who the instructor is, who your competition is, etc) and there's no quick and easy way to simply state what will make a short story memorable, much less how to succeed in doing that with a deadline looming (without a time machine).

    In the right hands, just about any aspect of a story can be what makes it memorable, but more likely a combination of all of them.
     
  6. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say if you can provoke an emotional response from the reader then you are successful in making your story memorable.

    Some authors do it through clever humor, others with witty characters, and some with the ideas expressed in the story. All of these things provoke emotion in the reader, regardless of being positive or negative.
     
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  7. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think what makes a short story memorable is when you, the reader, respond to what has happened to the characters, whether it be emotionally or it makes you think. Also, when you re-read the story, you discover new meanings. Usually, character driven stories are most memorable for me.
     
  8. Ice Queen
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    Ice Queen Senior Member

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    Thanks for replies everyone, as far as I can tell it's good advice, and I'll take it all into account.

    @ popsicledeath: I see, I'm always a bit worried you see, that getting others' critique might be frowned upon. I guess I was thinking along the lines of the forum about 'posting here harms our chances of being published'- I wasn't sure if it applied academically or not, though it's not like I'm asking anyone to write it for me, so you may be right.

    I do have a few pieces that I've written maybe 3 years ago that I like, one specifically which was quite character driven with an interesting twist which I think might be a good idea to edit and rework as I'm quite fond of it- thanks for the suggestion :)

    I have another, newer one which I wrote just recently, although I quite like this one too because the narrative is a little bit different, slightly experimental, though in a subtle way.

    I was planning on writing a few and deciding which I like best, then editing the crap out of it, bleh.

    Roughly it's about 16 or so places on a course; Eng. Lit probably has between 100 and 200 people taking it next year, mind you I have absolutely no idea how many people want to do this :s
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    excellent writing; interesting character/s; a great storyline...
     
  10. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Sticky communication according to Heath & Heath "Made to Stick":
    The S U C C E S formula: simple, unexpected, credible, concrete, emotional, scenario-driven

    I think the unexpected is the most compelling....
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm just polishing an old story and writing two more for a writng competition in the UK run by The Writers Bureau (you can Google it--it's based in Manchester and the closing date for entries is 30th June).

    This thread has actually been very helpful and cheered me up as well, since all three of my stories revolve around a peculiar character, and have a very 'storytelling' feel which I was afraid was too simple and old-fashioned. I always like a strong message or story, not just random thought processes.

    Thanks everyone!
     
  12. mootz
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    mootz Member

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    There should be something happening. In longer works you can play with description a bit more but with short stories I think you have to move the story forward at all times. Ask yourself is the character or story pushed forward with this sentence. Also, does it help build the climax?

    To me short stories are like jokes, set up and punch line, with no added preservatives or artificial flavors...
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think more than with novels, your writing style has to be original, inventive and engaging with a short story. With a novel, people have a longer time to get invested in the characters and the story, a luxury you don't have with a short story (especially one under 2000 words). In fact, at that length, I would forget about 'story' altogether. You simply don't have room to develop anything more than a couple of plot points and it's over. You need to learn how to make action and conflict implicit in your writing to give a sense of narrative fullness without actually having to write it all out. Character development is quite important, but again, if you make it character-centric, you need to be able to evoke a character in a very small amount of words, which can be difficult for some writers. But I still think that above everything else, your writing style will be the most important thing, and almost certainly what your professors will be paying attention to more than anything else. A good story or good characters is fine, but an original, distinctive voice trumps everything else.
     
  14. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get what you're saying, but I think it can be possible to have a complete story in 2,000 words. Maybe it's my experience of reading to my kids... also, folk tales often have a whole story in the one telling. Obviously, the problem is balancing being sufficiently concise with the need to have a certain amount of character development so that it is not too superficial or pat, and it's not a 'story' in the same way that a novel is... it depends how you define the word, I guess.
     
  15. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    What I like in a short story is a twist, something at the end that turns things around, changes the entire meaning of the story.

    What you can do in two thousand words you can usually do in less if you need to. In fact in one of the other fora I post to, Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles UK, they have a 75 word challenge and some of those pieces are astounding.

    So my thought would be to take a longer short story you wrote and like, and drill it down until you reach something that is almost pure essence. If nothing else it should be a good tool to focus your creativity on.

    Cheers.
     

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