time in a bottle: on short stories and time spans

Short stories are often thought to be the story of a moment. Where a novel can cover years and years worth of time, the given wisdom is that a short story rarely covers more than a very succinct period of time, like a week, a day, or even a few hours. (Whether or not this is actually true, I suppose is up for debate. New writers are often given “rules” that are not universally true.) So how on earth do I explain that while my full-length novel only spans six months of story time, my short story, “All the Other Boys” spans 5-6 years of story time in 6600 words and actually works?

Because I do figure it works. Most people who have read it (and told me so) have enjoyed it. The reviews, at their worst, have said it was “pretty good” and at their best have been excellent. Even if I wasn’t entirely sure why it worked, somehow I must have done something right.

But now it’s finally occurred to me why.


It’s because “Boys” is not actually a standard short story in its structure. Sure, it’s as long as a short story (nearly as long as a novelette, actually), but in its gears and mechanics, it works differently. I didn’t approach its creation the same way I have other short stories I’ve written, where I am usually building around one moment, one event, or one day. And I suppose I should have realized this considering that I even broke it up into chapters.

It’s more like several linked flash fictions. Snapshots from a life, told one after another, building upon each other and ultimately snowballing into something larger. A life told in moments.

Ha, now the next time somebody asks me this, I’ll have an answer for them. And of course, I’ll pretend I meant to do that all along.

Have you ever read a short story that spanned a long period of time? I’d be very interested to find more that attempt this!