My every-other-Saturday writer’s group is compiling an anthology of short stories written by our members. At this week’s meeting, a colleague stated emphatically that short stories are about character not plot. As an opinionated recovering control freak, and perhaps, as someone whose contribution has a major plot and a half-dozen plotlets, I took exception to the pronouncement and spent the rest of the weekend
hunting down ammunition for my side of the argument reading articles about crafting short stories as well as actual published short stories.
My brief (though intense) research revealed it’s true that short stories (3,000-5,000 words) are most often focused on how a specific time or event affects the life or lives of one or two major characters. However, each of our anthology writers is allowed a luxurious number of words (up to 10,000), pushing our stories into the “novelette” range, offering more latitude in balancing the character/plot proportions.
So there, Your Royal Highness of All-Knowingness.
I find that what I want most is to avoid heavy-handed or proscriptive focus on process and immerse myself in the joy of telling a good story. Don’t get me wrong–I know that structure and all the Strunk and White stuff matters. I also know that if one wishes commercial success, one must be aware of rules, guidelines, and standards. In short though, nothing trumps story.