I already knew that Jackie Kay was rather brilliant. Her post on the short story over at Thresholds is just the latest confirmation of this fact. I heartily recommend anyone interested in the short story form read the whole post but I wanted to share my favourite bits here.

First up:

A (short) 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 short story is such a perfect form, you should really be able to lift it up and carry it into a huge cornfield, and it should still glow.

It’s one of the great strengths of the short form that despite its focus on a key event or change it somehow breaks the bounds of its own diminutive size to present the reader with a fully realised life they can assemble for themselves. Also, gotta love the image of a short story glowing in a corn field.


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.

Remember though, omitting stuff you don’t know is a big no-no, just ask Hemingway.*

Thirdly and finally:

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.

Which is exactly what all the best shorts do. I still think about Chekhov’s Misery and Carver’s Why Don’t You Dance and Amy Hempel’s Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep months and years after reading them.

Safe to say that all these things that make the short story wonderful, outlined so beautifully in the post, are also what makes writing the things so damn tricky. Luckily they are also what makes the whole process of writing them so worthwhile. Obviously Jackie Kay thinks so, as she is writing stories again.

How about you, what keeps you writing short fiction? Which short stories have stayed with you long after the last word has trickled past your eye? What aspect of the short form makes them so magical for you?

*If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
—Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon