Monday, 26 March 2012

Why Focus Matters In Short Stories

Over the past weeks I've been judging a couple of short story competitions. There have been several well-written stories which lacked focus or rather, had several different areas to focus on and I didn't know where the writer wanted me to look. Consider this story outline:

The story opens with scene between Character A and Character B having a row about a minor car accident. It then moves on to Character A going shopping for food for a dinner party Character A is throwing to impress the boss. The dinner party goes wrong, leaving Character A feeling sad/angry/relieved/whatever - The End.

So, is the focus on Character A and Character B, or on the dinner party and the consequences? The reader feels cheated because they felt directed to focus on Character A and Character B as they were present right at the start, but Character B never turned up again and the accident had no purpose for the rest of the story.

What should have happened is that Character B has a crucial role later in the story - perhaps they could have turned up at the dinner party as the boss's partner and that's why it went wrong.

Nadine Gordimer wrote, "a short story is a concept that the writer can 'hold', fully realised, in his imagination, at one time." Everything in the story should tie in with the main focus - the under-lying concept - because, unlike in a novel, there simply isn't the space for digressions.


Maria Mohan said...

Yes, it should be a complete, well rounded idea that makes full sense. Perhaps the writer knew that but lacked the writing skills to show what he or she wanted to say. It sounds unpolished and unfinished to me.

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Maria, the example is one I've made up just for the blogpost - I think it would be v dodgy to use someone else's work without permission. So there's a reason it sounds unpolished and unfinished - it is!

Susan May said...

Sarah, I've just discovered your blog. I really like what you have to say. Being a big short story fan, writing and reading, I am dismayed when I read stories such as you have outlined.
Every single word counts and that is the discipline of them. My other issue with short stories is that so many don't have endings. They just waffle on and end. And these are printed in some pretty established anthologies.

It annoyed me so much that I wrote a blog post on it. I am not an expert on writing but I have had many shorts published and won some competitions.

I love short stories and think they are so valuable I also wrote a blog post on why everyone should write them. Thanks for such a an interesting blog. I'll come back and explore. :)

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Susan, and welcome to my blog. Glad you liked the post, and hope you enjoy exploring. I like a good ending myself, and a good strong story line too.