‘The 3 Most Common Missing Pieces Of A Good Short Story’
Josh Barkan, author of Mexico, talks to us about three missing pieces that he doesn’t see in his MFA student’s work: sufficient conflict; access to the interior consciousness of the protagonist; and something strange, quirky, truly unusual that the reader wants to read about. To illustrate his point, he talks to us about a story written by Richard Ford called “Rock Springs.” This story is specific to Barkan’s point because he uses it to show that the protagonist should have conflict; should have desires and dreams; should be interesting to capture the reader’s attention. Key word here, like the advice given by Patrick Ryan is interesting.
”Readers like strange coincidences in short stories. Even if describing everyday events, look for the strange detail, the strange moment.”
‘The Importance Of Compartmentalizing As A Writer’
I love writer advice that speaks on behaviors a person can take to better their craft. This is exactly the type of advice that Mary Gordon, author of There Your Heart Lies shares with us in this chapter. She talks about “compartmentalizing” our work and writing time; what this means is that us writers should get into the habit of “sticking to one thing at a time.” This is interesting advice, IMHO, that actually serves as good discipline for any artistic craft — be it writing or other arts. Focusing on the writing tasks that we want to complete aids in our overall completion of said goals. And we know this works for most writers, yes? (I’m thinking about NaNoWriMo and writing retreats here, so it must work…)
”What is important for me is to stick to a writing schedule, which means my tush is on the chair for a certain amount of time every day: I don’t require any page or word output from myself, just a time of not moving on to something else.”
‘How Novel & Short Story Writing Are Different’
This chapter, written by Tim Gautreaux, author of Signals, caught my attention because, as a novice writer myself, I like to think about distinctions between different genres of writing. Novel and Short Story are two genres that each require differing approaches in style, tempo, and form.
However, Gautreaux talks to us about a few obvious points: a novel is larger/longer than a short story (of course it is…); novels need outlines because they’re holding more meat (I would say short stories too — it depends on the writer, but hey…); novels give writers more room to “bang about.”
”It’s important to realize that, in a novel, characterization trumps plot. In a short story it’s the other way around. It’s just the nature of the beasts.
As you may have noticed, Gautreaux’s advice was not my favorite of this bunch; mainly because, IMHO, his advice felt obvious. And perhaps there are some writers that need to hear the obvious. Yet, throughout his message of what did or what didn’t constitute a short story, hid a message about how to correctly write a short story. This to me, was a bit problematic.
Fluidity Is Key To Creativity
I’m in the frame of mind that writing should be fluid; yes, there are a few distinctions, like novels being longer than short stories, thereby offering more room to navigate on plot. However, direction of any kind that only serves to limit the imagination of what a writer can do (especially during a draft phase) is not ok. Exploring what short stories mean — in terms of length — is part of the creative process. Perhaps what one once thought would be a short story actually morphs into the beginnings of a novel. Who knows? Perhaps a longer short story can be broken up into two or three separate flash fictions. Who knows? Perhaps a writer works best if they draft a plot in a similar fashion to creating a novel plot. Why not? Just remember: short stories were defined as short stories and were given “rules” (more like guidelines, to be honest) that some individuals like to think are rigid. This is not so. Define how you want to write and create how you want to create. Make a new type of short story — maybe it’ll be one that morphs elements of novel writing with other mediums, like art or poetry. Who knows what we can do when we set our imaginations toward creation? Food for thought.
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