Michelle Wittle on a Short Story About Nothing?

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

Some say a story that is devoid of the four basic elements of the short story can’t be considered a story. Also, some say that if a short story doesn’t have one of the four basic plot outlines, it can’t be a short story. I say both arguments are wrong.

Two women are sitting at a park. They are talking about their life. They get up and leave.

I think the above words are a short story.

While it is true, it is certainly short; I feel it honestly be considered a work of fiction.

With some added details about the characters and perhaps what they were discussing, I think this could very well indeed become a sustainable short story. However, others would disagree and say because the story doesn’t follow a traditional story arch; it isn’t a story at all.

However, look at Seinfeld. The TV show was based on the premise it was a show about nothing. I disagree completely with that theory. The show was about a group of characters and how they interacted with each other and the world. What are the four basic plots? Remember, man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. God, and man vs. self?  In just the description of the show, there is man vs man and man vs society.

Let’s not forget that TV shows have become an influential part of how writers write. Look at all the chick lit that has been published in the past few years. Would chick lit be as popular if it weren’t for Sex in the Cityand other shows just like it? So is it any wonder why these short stories about nothing continually keep popping up?

In the case of the short story about nothing, if we could spend ten years watching a show about “nothing”, we can read a short story about “nothing.”

I still want to argue the point that a short story that doesn’t have the four basic elements (setting, plot, character, and theme) can’t be considered a short story.

Look again at my story in the beginning of the blog. Are characters in the story? Is there a setting? Is there some resolution? The only thing my story doesn’t have is a conflict. However, if I were to go in and flesh out the dialogue, I bet there will be a conflict. Most likely it would be a conflict of man vs self, but without having the dialogue it is hard to say with certainty the conflict.

I think the four elements of a story and the four basic conflicts are so ingrained in our minds, we can’t help but write them in. If a well developed picture of a person or two people talking is presented, the basic elements will be there.

Can we have a story about nothing? I don’t think it is possible to have a story about nothing. Even if it is just a simple conversation or a person just looking at a chair, thoughts are happening. Something is happening. In that something, a conflict will come along and a conclusion will surface. How many conversations have you had with people about nothing, yet you still came away from that conversation with something?

It is human nature to want to give things meaning. We have to find the connections. As writers, we connect things all the time. Sometimes it happens so naturally, we don’t know we did the connections until someone else reads our piece and points it out.

In conclusion, every story, either spoken or written, is about something. Therefore, there is no such thing as a story about nothing.

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