When you’re writing a short story you obviously have to limit your focus compared to what you might explore in a longer work. While it’s always possible to cover ground quickly — “The Wilson family lived in New England for seven generations” — at some point you to have to dramatize specific scenes and populate them with fully realized characters. In a short story there’s only so much room to do so.
In this section Hills is concerned with the focusing power that comes from authorial clarity. He doesn’t argue that authors should have everything nailed down before they start writing, or even that authors will have clarity about their own work as they write. Rather, he simply encourages writers to recognize that the limited literary real estate of a short story requires focusing on aspects that are crucial:
A short story writer seeks to isolate those events that are most significant and then focus on them. The sequences that are most important he’ll render in detail, dramatizing them in scenes so as to bring them to life.
From this you might conclude that short stories are limiting while novels are liberating. In a sense you’re right. Novels have more pages, and more pages equals more drama if only in a quantitative sense. But quality counts in fiction, and giving an author more pages doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a better story. A longer story, yes, but not necessarily a better one. [ Read more ]