This week I’ll be chatting about short story writing by reviewing snippets of Signature’s Compact Guide to Short Story Writing — A highly recommended read for any-level writer.
‘How To Write A Short Story In 3 Simple Steps’
If only Charles Yu, author of Sorry Please Thank You would come up with more simple steps on, I don’t know, adulting perhaps, he would have a long-time fan with me. Needless to say, I thought Yu’s writing advice was humorous, thought-provoking, silly at times, and honest. How else can you approach writing if not with a creative outlook on its very merits? That’s what I thought, at first, before I read Yu’s three steps: 1) Idea Formation (okay, so far so good); 2) Procrastination (wait a minute…); 3) Completion (hmm…). I’ll just say that his advice makes sense, despite it’s haphazard way of getting to completion. Perhaps because this is how writing really is (or “writing” with scare quotes, as Yu puts it).
”Step One: Idea Formation Let’s say you have an idea for a story. Throw it out. It’s no good. Even if it is good, it’s no good. Come up with a different idea. Now, take the second idea (which we will call Idea #2), and very carefully throw it out. Next, the physical environment. By which I mean, your physical environment. Writing is a physical act. Are you facing a wall? Strolling? Gazing out at an infinite vista through a keyhole? Whatever. Stop doing that. Next, beat yourself up a little bit. This is terrible. You are terrible. Come up with between three and 500 more ideas. You know what to do with them. Throw them out. All of them. Return to that first idea. Now it’s good. Magic! Or is it? If you are still thinking about it, it might be.”
‘How A Short Story Is Like A Feast’
Nell Stevens, author of Bleaker House, is a self-described impatient reader. I believe this is why he talks to us about how endings are the best. I never thought about this — especially when I wrote my note about how I didn’t think we (writers) should cater to impatient readers (specifically in the formation of our drafts). Stevens saying that a short story is like a feast puts in perspective how a short story should feel. He tells us that short stories give impatient readers a much-needed craved ending in a shorter amount of time then compared to a novel, despite them doing different “work” (i.e. expectations for novels are different for a short story). What Stevens illustrates best is the short story’s strength: its ability to capture moments that make you think longly even after you’ve finished reading. I think this is what he means about endings being the best.
”Short stories, in their briefness, contain their own afterlives, which resonate in the reader’s imagination long after the book has been closed.”
‘Short Stories: They’re Just Like Life’
I enjoyed reading Siobhan Fallon’s, author of The Confusion Of Languages, advice on short story collections and their relationships to each other, when bound into a single book. While writing The Confusion Of Languages, Fallon learned that her once short story was morphing into one larger novel. She talks about how short stories as a form are more forgiving and, for her, works as a sketch (ideally toward a potential expansion). I somewhat agree, although I don’t like to think about short stories as an automatic stepping stone for a novel or something longer. While I do believe that sometimes the stories we write can morph into something new (a note that Fallon says happened to her), other times some short stories can feel like they’ve ended — and that’s that.
”I tend to think short stories more closely mirror life, the mess of it, the sharp edges, the unanswered questions.”
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