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Essentials of a Short Story ~ Edgar Allen Poe Options · View
MorganHawke
Posted: Monday, February 21, 2011 11:43:46 AM

Rank: First Person Smartass

Joined: 2/8/2011
Posts: 347
Location: The suburbs.
Essentials of a Short Story
Quotes raped from a critique of Nathanial Hawthorn’s Twice Told Tales by
Edgar Allen Poe - 1837


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Edgar Allen Poe, celebrated as one of the finest short fiction writers of all time, was also a literary critic. These are bits of his wisdom on writing short stories gleaned from one of his critiques.

“The true critic will but demand that that the (story’s) design intended be accomplished, to the fullest extent, by the means most advantageously applicable…" -- Poe

Poe’s Prerequisites -- in a Nutshell:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
To deliver fullest satisfaction, a short story should be structured:


1) To be read in one sitting.
2) Using a deliberate number of characters and incidents.
3) With words restrained in style and tone.
4) All done that should be done with nothing done which should not be.


Poe’s Prerequisites -- in DETAIL
A short story should be structured:

1) To be read in one sitting.

“Were we bidden to say how the highest genius (of the short story) could be most advantageously employed for the best display of (the short story’s) own powers, we should answer, without hesitation- in the composition of a rhymed poem, not to exceed in length what might be perused in an hour.” – Poe

Translation:
-- How much can YOU read in an hour or two? THAT’S how long a short story should be.

According to most publishers, this means no more than 15k, (15,000 words) or 60 NY publishing formatted pages. (60 pages at 12 point courier font, on an 8.5” by 11” page with 1” margins, are counted as 250 words per page, regardless of actual word count.)

20k, or 80 NY publishing formatted pages, is considered a Novella. Magazine publishers tend to look for 5k stories, (5,000 words) or 20 NY publishing formatted pages.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2) Using a deliberate number of characters and incidents.

A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents- he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tends not to the out-bringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step.” – Poe

Translation:
-- Plot with a Purpose in mind, a Premise, and write your story to carry out that purpose, and only that purpose.

If you’re writing a novel you can add other ‘purposes’, but when you’re writing a short story you don’t have the room for more than one.

“What do you mean by…purpose?”
-- Very simply…

What are you SAYING with your story? What are you trying to Show or Prove?
~~~~~~~~~~~~
• The reality of Love? – Romeo & Juliet
• The pain of Jealousy? – Othello
• The results of Revenge? – Hamlet
• The path of Ambition? - Julius Caesar

Plotting is essential in all forms of fiction for cohesion. Plotting ensures that your story has all the important bits that make a story, a STORY, such as: a beginning, a middle, and an end. It keeps you from missing something vital – or putting something in that does not belong.

Side-tracked by a really cool subplot?
-- Does it fit with the theme of what you are trying to accomplish?

• If it does – GREAT! Is there enough room for it? (What kind of word-count limit are you dealing with?)
• If it doesn’t – GREAT! You have the makings of a whole new story! (Chop it out and make a whole new document file just for it.)

However, Plotting does NOT have to be a chapter by chapter outline; it can be a short list of just the important bits:

~~~~~~~~~~~~
A Plot Arc for an Erotic story
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Introduction
Early trouble, revealing the character's talents and setting.
-- Boy meets Girl, Adversary meets Proponent…

Rising Action
Increasing tension - crisis after crisis
-- One succeeds in seducing the other.

Climax / Reversal
Point of highest tension & the story's turning point.
-- Something happens that separates the two lovers, such as misunderstandings, rivals, bad-guys in general…

Falling Action
All plot threads unravel leaving only one solution.
-- Motives & all other angsty secrets are uncovered, revealing the REAL problem.

Confrontation
Final choice, ending in hope or ruin
-- Confessions, fights, forced seductions, and begging for forgiveness…

Denouement
Resolution
-- Happily ever after…?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

3) Using words restrained in style and tone.

“The author who aims at the purely beautiful in a prose tale is laboring at great disadvantage. For Beauty can be better treated in the poem. Not so with terror, or passion, or horror, or a multitude of such other points.” – Poe

Translation:
-- Hunks of sweeping, emotionally blissed-out, text is generally SKIPPED in favor of: “What happens next?” The only place for fancy words is in Description.

Why? Because in this day and age, the average book-store browsing Reader (or the fan-fiction reader,) does not have the patience to read fancy prose.

Think I'm kidding? In this very article, how many of you have been skipping over Poe's literary-heavy quotes to get to the Translations? (Rhetorical Question! You are not expected to answer!)

Seriously, no matter what genre you write, the average Buying Reader reads with a TV-Watcher's attention span (about the same as a 12-year old). Unlike Poe’s readers, ALL of your readers grew up watching TV. Because of this, they’re used to their stories being action packed, directly to the point, and SHORT.

How short?
-- How long is a TV program? Sit-coms are half an hour. Actual programs are an hour - two at the most. How much can YOU read in that amount of time? That’s how short. Your story has to fit into a TV-program slot -- and compete with the next program they plan to watch.

As a rule, only the college-heavy teacher-types read literary prose for pleasure. Everybody else (the BUYING public) reads pulp fiction.

DESCRIPTION is a MUST in Modern Fiction!
~~~~~~~~~~~~
-- Our modern-day, TV-addict readers are trained (by their TV-watching,) to be VISUALLY stimulated. These readers PICTURE their stories as they read them, and expect enough description to be able to make those mind-pictures crystal clear – AND emotionally visceral.

They not only want to SEE it, they want to FEEL it too -- but they don't have much of an attention span, so every word must count!

Description should be trimmed down to:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
• Distinct nouns rather than vague nouns - Toyota instead of car.
• 1 Adjective per Distinct Noun – The red Toyota
• 2 Adjectives per Sensation – smell, taste, texture, sound, view – “I stared with horror at the dilapidated, red Toyota.”
• 2 Adjectives per Emotion – anger, lust, love, joy, misery – “The bitter ache in my weary heart…”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4) All done that should be done with nothing done which should not be.

In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.” –Poe

Translation:
-- Make every character, object, event…, do double duty. Don’t just throw something in the story for decoration like a sex scene, or a piano in the living room. Make that piano, or that sex scene IMPORTANT to the story. Make something happen because they had sex. Make something happen because they played the piano.

This is more commonly known as:

The “Gun on the Mantelpiece” rule of Fiction:
-- “If a gun is shown on the mantelpiece in Chapter One, it better go off by Chapter Three – and there had better be a damned good reason for that gun to go off.”

Applied to Erotica:
-- “If a Kiss is shown in the living room in Chapter One, Sex better happen by Chapter Three – and there had better be a damned good reason for that Sex to happen.”

Applied to Sci-Fi:
-- “If a mysterious artifact is shown in the living room in Chapter One, the mysterious artifact had better cause chaos by Chapter Three – and there had better be a damned good reason for that chaos to happen.”

The trick to knowing what to include in any story, is whether or not you intend to actively USE it. If the character trait or object does not matter to the plot – skip it. If it doesn’t Actively MOVE the Plot, (even a teeny bit,) you don’t need to include it.

The shorter the story the LESS room you have to work with, so the only details that you need are what actually changes the plot -- even character details. If that detail has no bearing on the plot, you don’t need it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In Conclusion…

Poe’s Prerequisites – Translated

-- A short story should be Plotted:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
1) Between 5,000 words, and 15,000.
2) With a Beginning, Middle, End, and a Point in mind.
3) For a TV-watcher’s visually oriented (12-year old) attention span.
4) Using only what is needed to make your point, and complete the story.

Read the entire critique, by Edgar Allen Poe:
http://bau2.uibk.ac.at/sg/poe/works/criticis/twice_to.html

Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DISCLAIMER: As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Morgan Hawke
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Purveyor of fine Smut.
DarkErotica.Net ~ My Website
DarkErotica Blog ~ My Writers' blog

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
Albert Einstein

mia_erotica
Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2011 8:50:57 PM

Rank: Rookie Scribe

Joined: 3/1/2010
Posts: 8
Location: New York
Love the disclaimer.
MorganHawke
Posted: Friday, February 25, 2011 7:00:33 PM

Rank: First Person Smartass

Joined: 2/8/2011
Posts: 347
Location: The suburbs.
mia_erotica wrote:
Love the disclaimer.

Thank you!
-- It became necessary when one too many 'creative' writers started screaming that "there are no rules for Arte!"

My response was, "Well, there ARE for publication." I was then accused of being arrogant and snotty. And so, my Disclaimer was born.

Morgan Hawke
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Purveyor of fine Smut.
DarkErotica.Net ~ My Website
DarkErotica Blog ~ My Writers' blog

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
Albert Einstein

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