How long should a story be? Did someone say “Just long enough?” Well, maybe in the old days, when attention spans were measured in furlongs. But somewhere along the space-time continuum, our attention spans shrunk down to the length of a banjo encore.
We can blame flashing screens and finger-seducing buttons for diverting us from things sublime–like time spent reading a story. Too boring, too much like thinking, too long, ripostes tweeters with their 140 well thought out characters. Ironic, perhaps, that once upon a time the term characters referred to people found in stories and not glyphs on a screen.
Yet, pressed for time, readers around the globe loved the short story form when it first appeared. It’s length–anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 words seemed just right. As time squeezed even harder, however, the short story gave way to the short-short story, at something like 1,500 words. When that became just a lifetime, flash fiction exploded, offering drive-by stories at 500-700 words or so.
Today the question of how long a story should be has been reversed: How short should a story be? The short answer: six words.
Yes, stories of six words–maximum and minimum–are now held up by clever dwarves as the standard for get-out-of-town fiction.
But what, a faithful reader asks, can you possibly say in six words, when it took Fyodor Dostoyevsky 340,000 of them to say it in “The Brothers Karamazov?”
Welcome to the Ernest Hemingway answer. Uncle Ernie– extremely dead now these past six decades–established his distinctive style with short, tight sentences. He once wrote a six-word story that some believe said it all: “For sale: baby shoes; never worn.”
Of course, it didn’t say it all at all. But it does seem easier to try to beat Papa at his own game with 6 words than 60,000.
So, in case you have an extra 3.7 seconds–and who does anymore?–please browse my considerable library of “Get to the point, I’m getting bored” fiction. Look for them soon on the New York Times bestseller list.
- Tickling that grizzly changed Stosh forever.
- When Raoul died, we wept. Briefly.
- Killer’s motive? Victim’s poems never rhymed.
- Stupid? Granted. But only while breathing.
- LuAnn regretted nothing. We regretted LuAnn.
- Running in place got Harold nowhere.
- Dang him, hang him. Poetic justice.
- Whenever Adolph came out, we ran.
- Leo pleaded innocent once too often.
- Raining arrows caught him, sans umbrella.
- He tried kindness. Kind of. Disaster.
- Unluckily, stampeding turtles slowly trampled Lucky.
- Blah, blah, blah. Needs more blah.
- Unexpectedly, his boomerang came back Republican.
- Turns out his dog doo’d it.
- Trouble: One-armed man, three eyes.
- Dawn. Swords. Blood. Honor. Eulogy. Forgotten.
- Suddenly, teeth, hair and eyeballs everywhere.
- He had money. She had he.
- Found Timmy in well. Barked. Left.
- Inevitably, his ticking bomb went tock
- Closing scene: banjo bouncing down stairs.
- Rags. Luck. Riches. Sex. Greed. Glock-in-his-ear
- Carefully, they handed him his ass.
- You saved me! Ironically, you’re fired.
- Oddly, a monster Danish killed everyone.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2014, all rights reserved.