We've all read the hundred-chapter epics that go on and on and progress at a rate of about half a plot inch per chapter. (HP fandom seems to have more of these than the corner of Buffy fandom I love best.) But more often I read stories that are much shorter than I think they need to be to achieve their goals as story.
A good drabble is a wonderful thing. It sets out to send you to the mat with a right cross to your jaw, and it does so.
A good short story has a different ambition. It has a plot to work out. Some characters to show in action. Some moment of change to visit. And so often I read stories that give me the basic idea of a story, without satisfying me. The writer pointed in the direction of the story, but didn't lead me all the way there. They gave me the pencils for a comic page, without the inking and the coloring.
Okay, that's enough with the metaphors. You've had an idea! Okay, great. Now the work starts. And please, do the work.
What's missing? It varies by story, but here are a few specific things I find myself pining for.
Description, both interior and exterior. Of anything. Physical scene-setting. The moment-by-moment authenticating detail John Gardner pleads for.
I have referred to this as the "spotlight on a bare stage" problem. The characters are in a restaurant. What kind of restaurant? What's the lighting? How many people are in it? Chain or family-owned? Can they hear themselves talk, or do they have to lean forward and shout to be heard over the din from the group of a dozen or so people celebrating a coworker's birthday? C'mon! Convince me!
Physical movement beyond the grossly important items. The characters don't have bodies, don't fidget, don't scratch, don't betray emotion through gesture. One symptom is a long stretch of dialog unbroken by action of any kind.
Incident given as summary without being rendered, even when it's important and worthy of being shown in glorious detail.
Plot complication and rising action. So many stories are single hares set running on the track that are straightforwardly chased and killed by the greyhound-scrawny story. The initial setup is the entirety of the problem the characters have to solve. Everything they try works. Done!
An interior life for the characters. What goes on inside their little heads?
I want to spend more time in these story worlds. I love the characters and the settings. I long to be with them and soak them in. Please let me! Please slow down and give me more. You know secrets about these characters and what happened. You do! That's why you're writing. Tell me all the secrets. Everything. I want all the juicy details, please!