Hungry for a Short Story

WARNING: May cause cravings for Spanish tapas and short stories.

A meal of Spanish tapas is similar to the reading of short stories. Imagine different flavorful dishes served one after another – combinations of vegetables, fish, cheeses and more. Dinner guests suffice with a few bites of each dish. Add dates, sherry and marinated olives to the next round of tapas. Still hungry? Order again from the menus – hot or cold – with different ingredients, seasonings and sauces. Want more? Then turn the page for the next short story in an anthology because reading these tasty bites are just as delicious.

Like tapas, short stories come in many different forms and structures. Longer stories might be structured as miniature novels. The reader travels at warp speed through the character arch or hero’s journey. A short story, however, might give a glimpse into only one aspect of a longer story. In The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, one of the contributing writers, Nathan Leslie, categorizes flash fiction into five basic types: the monologue, the tale, the scene, the snapshot story, and the experiment. Leslie states the individual scene is the most common. The scene format worked for my first short story which I entered and placed in a contest. Since a novelist already thinks in scenes, this style is an easy transition to short stories. Likewise, in a tapas restaurant, an order might begin with the more familiar food items and progress to the more experimental.

The waiter brings the tapas and proudly says the name of the dish. We have ordered several tapas. Perhaps if the restaurant were not so loud, or our Spanish were better, or less of the sangria had found its way to our glasses, we would know what was in front of us. Nevertheless, part of the fun is guessing the dish. We sniff for the garlic and look for the pimento. And then, someone sees the olives and knows it is definitely the beef. A novel prolongs the guessing of who “done it” or “will do it.” Guessing games frequent literature, television shows and even childhood playtime such as Hide and Go Seek; Animal, Vegetable, Mineral; and Hangman. Short stories are guessing games on steroids. The form compresses the timeframe and eliminates unnecessary details or facts. The reader must parse through subtle gestures and implications to arrive at the theme and decipher hidden clues, meanings and flavors.

When I mention tapas, I also speak of menus, waiters and restaurants because it is far easier to eat tapas at a restaurant with a bevy of chefs, cooks and busboys. Similarly, short stories are a treasure to read and analyze yet very difficult to write. The challenge is to determine the most concise presentation of the theme and then the best way to reveal the story.

Now I have to decide which theme I want to write next. Which one of these will it resemble?

QUESO DE CABRA CON NUECES – goat cheese rolled in caramelized pecans, served with poached pear in red wine, grapes and toast points

CAZUELA DE PULPO – marinated octopus with sweet peppers and sherry vinaigrette

CAZUELA DE POLLO SALTEADO – casserole of sautéed chicken with garlic, chorizo, mushrooms and amontillado sauce

PINCHO DE SOLOMILLO A LA PIMIENTA – grilled beef brochette rolled in cracked pepper, served with caramelized onions and horseradish sauce

If you’re tempted by these tapas, stop at Emilio’s Tapas in Chicago for any of the menu items above. Take along an anthology of short stories by Spanish authors. Or practice your Spanish and read Colombian short story writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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