How does a short story work?
Let’s dissect one and find out, (it’s only 381 words long). This is a story I wrote and posted in a forum to demonstrate how short stories don’t necessarily have to conform to traditional notions of conflict, structure, resolution and completeness – or do they? Writers and readers are invited to participate.
By C.C. Kelly
He rested his cane against the wooden post and gingerly lowered himself onto the hay bale. The barn creaked and moaned as the corrugated roof expanded in the summer heat. He smiled as he wiped the sweat from his brow and ran his fingers through his thinning hair. After all of these years, the smell of the horses, the leather works, the feed and the oil and grease from the welding machine had evaporated, only the scent of hay and weeds remained.
He stared out beyond the feed pens at the unused land and his gaze drifted unbidden to the copse of trees that marked the unchanging river. The steady current whispering out of the golden dawn and then, once around the bend where the copse stood, it would widen and slow as the sunset sparkled off the exposed skipping stones of the riverbed.
When he was older, they went fly-fishing.
The work bench stood along the far side of the barn, unused and bare. But the vice was still attached to one end, just large enough to hold flies. As a boy, he would stand there in wide-eyed wonder staring up as his grandfather methodically and thoughtfully wound the thread, a kind, yet grim smile of determination etching his weathered face.
He stood, leaning heavily on his cane and shuffled over to the bench. He reached out and ran his fingers across the surface, a faint oily residue clinging to his fingertips. The tears from that last day were gone now, along with the horses, a ghostly memoir. That was the only time he had ever seen his grandfather cry.
He had been ten and looking forward to the warming weather and returning to the river. His grandfather had ruffled his hair and just said, “Soon.” His grandfather knew that day, what he knew now.
He rested his back against the bench. His children and grandchildren gathered around the back of the collapsing farm house staring with concern toward the barn, but his attention was drawn beyond them, back to the copse of trees. He squinted and tried to focus across the sea of waving weeds. On the slight rise that faced the house, he could just make out his grandfather’s marker.
Neither of them had ever gone fishing again.
Now let’s get out the scalpel and open this thing up. Please don’t hold back, this is a learning exercise and discussion. Honest brutality is encouraged and you won’t hurt my feelings – honest, this isn’t a beta study. We want to get to the heart of why short stories work and don’t, theme, metaphor, social commentary, drama, sympathy – all of it.
Any and all comments are welcome. Let the Autopsy begin.