I read a lot of "stories" nowadays, but many of them are incomplete. I am trying to improve one of mine from its current state--an engaging narrative with characters who overcome obstacles--to a finished story.
Some who have read Knickknack think that it is great. But the writers who have read Knickknack think that it does not have a good enough starting and ending point to work as a separate story--apart from a large story. I trust my non-writers. I think that Knickknack can take the reader into a different world for an adventure. I also trust the writers. Knickknack does not have a unified theme.
I usually find the theme during writing or after, not before. I previously found the theme in Knickknack and thought it was strong enough; but I never fully developed it. In revising Knickknack I have to be careful not to make it a sermon--that's not how the theme should work. I have to take the meaning that is there and lay it plain, through action and dialogue.
I started today. I found that I needed to begin the story earlier, to set up the way in which Jane Geist, the protagonist, changes. I wrote two short scenes, then went through, tweaking, highlighting where necessary, and, especially at the climax, reinforcing the theme. To give an idea about how little might be necessary, I added one phrase to the climactic scene and added one word to the climactic sentence.
I think it's a story.