What is a Good Short Story exactly?

Jackie Kay, a British writer, says this about What is a good short story exactly? -

It shares something with the novel in its use of the camera lens and use of narrative voice. It shares something with poetry in its love of language, its economy, its use of metaphor and voice. It is a lovely hybrid form, a cross between a poem and a novel. It catches people at crucial moments of their lives and snaps them. The short story allows us in a short space of time to understand huge things, huge dilemmas. . . .

A short story is a small moment of belief. . . If the novel sometimes spoon feeds the reader, the short story asks her to feed herself. A story asks the reader to continue it after it has finished or to begin it before it began. There is space for the reader to come in and imagine and create. There is space for the reader to think for ages, to mull the impact of a story over, to try and recover from it! ...

. . .The story often makes a reader aware of what she is not being told. What doesn’t happen in a short story is as important as what does. Like pauses in music; it is impossible to think about the short story without also thinking of its mysterious silences.

Perhaps the thing I love about stories most is that they give the appearance of space of length, so that when you return to them you are amazed at how the writer has created that effect. A whole life in a few pages. . . .

The short story is brilliant at taking the single emblematic moment that captures the whole, … The voice of the story catches the reader and claims her. A story should stay with you long after you have put it down. A good story should change the way you see things, the way you think. It should help you know yourself better.


Anyone who wants to learn how to write the perfect short story - or the short short story - could take what Jackie says as sound advice, as well.

(The bold highlights are mine.)

3 comments:

  1. bibliobibuli says

    Leon - I love this, thanks for posting it.

    What was the source?


    Leon Wing says

    Hi Sharon. This is from http://www.theshortstory.org.uk/thinkpiece/kay.html Also, there is a short short story of hers in there called Gull, which encapsulates all what she said about a good short story.


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