i read an interview of James Salter in the Paris Review and, man, what an interview. take a look at it here: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1930/the-art-of-fiction-no-133-james-salter this man is fucking smart. anyway, in the usual discussion of what makes short story writing so great, he is asked “what’s your idea of a short story?” here’s his answer:
Above all, it must be compelling. You’re sitting around the campfire of literature, so to speak, and various voices speak up out of the dark and begin talking. With some, your mind wanders or you doze off, but with others you are held by every word. The first line, the first sentence, the first paragraph, all have to compel you.
Further, I think, it should be memorable. It must have significance. Merely because something has been written is not adequate justification for it. A story doesn’t have to surprise–Mishima’s “Patriotism” disdains surprise. It needn’t be dramatic–Peter Taylor’s “A Wife of Nashvill” has no drama. What it must do is somehow astonish you, and what it must be is somehow complete.
this is an excellent description of how stories must take you away from your world into another. and it makes me want to sharpen my pencil, push up my sleeves, and stare at my first paragraphs.
do you think the work will ever end?