What is a short story? Some write short stories which are like photographs – here is a picture of Jane, an interesting character. And that’s it. The author says it’s a short story. Some writers send in very literary stories, perhaps clever writing, perhaps revealing an interesting situation, but no conclusion.
A friend and I used to sit in the back of the creative writing course I took in the eighties. The professor would read a story and tell us it was an excellent literary story. My friend and I would look at each other. Nothing happened in the story and it aroused no feelings in us.
Here’s what I’ve learned a short story is:
1. A Sympathetic or engaging lead character who dominates the action and from whose point of view the action unfolds.
2. An urgent problem which confronts this lead and requires of him or her a protracted response in solving this problem.
3. A series of complications which arise, usually directly out of the leads efforts to solve the problem, which further aggravate that problem
4. A crisis which results from mounting complications where it appears that the lead’s efforts to solve the problem are doomed to failure.
5. A resolution in which the lead solves the problem, or in which he fails, while gaining some insight as a result of that failure.