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November 2020: The short story in fiction

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A presentation by Christopher North and J David Simons

Finding a story in “the small things” a writer has not thought of before can be crucial to a good short story, novelist J. David Simons told the Xabia Book Circle at its virtual meeting on 3 November. Writing short stories is a craft and a discipline, he said; a story should be something you can “hold in your head”, in which every word matters.

The main difference between a novel and a short story is that, while a novel may take several sittings to read, a short story can usually be read in one go, or less than half an hour for the average story, which is about 4,000 words. “Otherwise, there’s not much difference between them”, he said; “they’re always about yourself”.


A really good title, along with some narrative and structure and “convincing little details”, do help, however, like "the nibbled, ringless fingers" of a Polish matron or "the giant hulk of meat and tusk" that describes a boar, to quote one of David’s own stories, “Remember Where You Came From”.  This story, and Rose Tremain's  "The Crossing of Herald Montjoy: a Short Story" form the model stories in David's short story analysis and recommendations.  

Poet Christopher North, a long-time Book Circle member who co-authored the live presentation on Zoom with David, described how short stories had their origins in Europe with Chaucer and Boccaccio. The art form was rapidly popularised in the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to such writers as Walter Scott, the Brothers Grimm, Conan Doyle, de Maupassant and Gorky.

The XBC 2020 Short Story Competition

At its November 2020 meeting, the Book Circle announced its first-ever formal competition, on the short story, which will be judged by novelist J David Simons. The competition is open to all members (10€ annual fee) and the deadline is 31 Dec. First prize is 100€, while wine or cava will be offered as second and third prizes. 


Four video recordings of the presentation, along with the two short stories discussed on the occasion, are available here and may be helpful to contestants


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