Have you ever read “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway? I read it when I was in college, and I didn’t really like it, but it is a story that has since stuck with me. A short story is typically defined as a “snap shot” in time. Just one small moment captured forever in a few words. “Hills Like White Elephants” illustrates that principal perfectly. It takes place over the course of maybe twenty minutes, but you can infer a ton about the characters’ lives and their relationship (Wikipedia calls this the “Iceberg Theory”). You even get all this elephant and licorice symbolism. You could talk about it for a week in class and not exhaust all the possibilites. Some short stories aren’t really that short at all–like “the Yellow Wallpaper”. Really, Charlotte Gilman? It was like fifty pages in my Norton Anthology. ” Hills LIke White Elephants” I remember being only two or three pages, yet it encompassed so much more than “the Yellow Wallpaper” ever could.
I’ve tried to write a short story several times–and failed miserably. Maybe it’s because I hold myself to too high of a standard. But Hills Like White Elephants is the only kind of short story that I can really relate to. It’s the only kind of short story that I want to write. A snapshot into someone’s desperately depressing life, and then back out again. Over a hundred pages’ worth of drama packed into two or three. And all that symbolism, too. But I guess none of us can be Ernest Hemingway–at least not on our first try.