Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thoughts on short story writing

So I was talking to my dad the other night about short stories, and how I feel like they all have a similar formula, a list of must-haves to really mean anything. Or at least in all the short stories I've read for my class lately, they've had this much in common:

- they focus on events in a relatively brief chunk of time, a few hours or a few days
- they contain flashbacks that serve to develop characters and fill in the story
- they have interesting, memorable characters
- the characters go somewhere, as in they change
- there is an overall message to be had
- the message is tied into some accessable, concrete means of explaination (what the plot is based around; for example, we read a story about a man who ends up feeling that he can't judge anything anymore, and the story takes place during a little league baseball game where he is the umpire)

So my dad says that it seems easy enough to put all these things together with a bit of work, abd he asks what separates the good short stories from the really great ones? I responded that I think it's just the artistry, the how. And of course not all stories need to have the things above to be successful... which is another piece of evidence for the importance of artistry, raw talent. Sometimes I think it's a matter of simply having it or not. That... and you have to want it. Want to write something phenomenal, and not give up until the writing has done what it wants.

That's where I think I might be at a loss, heh... Perhaps if I could just win a Hopwood and $3,000 or so...


Neil said...

If you ask me, there's only two parts to a short story: (1) where it takes you and (2) how it gets you there. A lot of my stories have a great deal of the latter --- good descriptive language, a tone that pulls the reader in, etc. --- but but none of the former --- there's really no point to all of it. I've also read quite a bit of stuff that has a great underlying idea (the where) but doesn't really do a good job of getting it across (the how). The really good stuff is what has both, and that's rare.

But that's more of a technical look at the output than a creative look at the process.

I think that to write something truly brilliant requires a spark of inspiration, something that flies at you out of the ether, so to speak, and inspires you to write down ten or twenty words until you realize (or maybe don't realize) "Hey, this is going somewhere" and then becomes a few hundred words before you realize what's happening. After that, it's just a question of hammering at it until it's presentable.

B-Go said...

Unfortunately, I have some difficulty with the idea of "a spark of inspiration" as a source for true brillance in writing. After all, there are a lot of times when nothing seems to be coming out right in writing, when nothing seems to inspire the writer (as if in a flash); yet when the writer starts something and keeps going with it--working at it until something clicks or until something of interest / value comes out--then the benefits of the work will pay off. You can write pages and pages of shitty first drafts before you get to a point where the story or the whatever-it-is-you're-writing starts to figure itself out.

Anyway, it's been a while since I've written a short story, but I think that if your really love and want to write anything, it could be potentially discouraging to live off of the idea that "a spark of inspiration" is what will make the writing good...

Manisha said...

Also, authors who rely too heavily on their own spark of brilliance sometimes forget that other people don't necessarily "get" the insight--in which case, without the hammering and the editing and the craftwork, the story is completely lost on the readers. To me, the most important thing is substance: the "message" or the "destination" of the story has to be something worthwhile, something that makes the reader feel as though the time he/she invested in reading it was not a waste. That's not to say every story has to have a moral; but, in my opinion, every store does have to have a point.