Home > Resources > Student resources > Short Stories

Short Stories

The secret of a short story's success is in the telling. Discuss.

As with all writing, it is hardly ever the plot itself that can sustain interest but the quality of the writer's craft that ultimately wins our minds. This is especially notable in Owen Marshall's stories where little that is significant happens but we enjoy them because the telling of the story is so skilful and satisfying. A lot of the satisfaction in Marshall's craft comes from his use of imagery, language, and irony.

His imagery is one of his real strong points. Marshall has an uncanny talent for description through comparison. Sometimes they are simple, natural, almost too obvious, but unfailingly accurate. As in 'The Rule of Jenny Penn' when he describes his morose anti-hero: 'Crealy hung his head to one side like an old dog.' Or his choice of simile can be rich with comment, as when he describes the limited and unimaginative Crealy standing in the doorway 'as a Neanderthal at the entrance to his cave.' Another example is the setting in 'Prince Valiant' which is reflected in the ugliness of the people. 'Bones,' writes Marshall, 'stuck up from the ground like defective teeth.'. Sometimes the comparison jars as in his description of Crealy's assault on Mrs Halliday: 'he scooped out her breasts so they made two full fish heads in the flounce of her dress.' The image is bizarre, but it captures the sagging shape so accurately.

Some images are developed to mirror ideas in the story and carry a certain emotional clout. In 'Mr Van Gogh', the central character is described earlier as 'a careworn lion'. This shows the dignity and pride which he bears. After his troubles with the council, general persecution and his heart attack, he 'lay like clay in the passage.' The colour is similar but the overtones of someone shaping destiny have disappeared. Finally, he is described as having a face 'the colour of a plucked chicken.' The implications of this image, as well as the obvious visual comment is a long way from the dignity of the lion and there is a certain emotional effect on the reader who has become sympathetic to the glass artist. This is rendered more striking at the last when Mr Van Gogh's house, which is symbolic of himself, his passion and his art, is destroyed. 'The house collapsed like an old elephant in the drought, surrounded by so many enemies.' The sympathy for an animal in dire circumstances and in mortal danger has a raw emotional edge. It is so powerful.

Another successful element in Marshall's storytelling is his use of language...

Home About Owen Marshall Bookshelf Resources Sample stories Reviews Contact us Links