A friend has sent a copy of John Steinbeck's letter to one of his creative writing teachers, in which he says
Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in your class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb from you the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories.You canceled this illusion very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, you said, was to write a good short story.
Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, you told us, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from writer to reader and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and technique at all—so long as it was effective.
As a subhead to this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.
We love that bit about "no rules". We're tired of reading well-constructed stories that follow the rules (someone has to want something very badly, etc). We're for a bit of madness in a short story.
Some we love:
A bullet in the brain Tobias Wolff
Destroyed Hilary Mantel