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.
‘What Sir Arthur Conan Foyle Knew About Storytelling’
Perhaps you are familiar with one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most infamous character — however, if somehow you haven’t heard of “Sherlock Holmes”, then perhaps you should catch one of a zillion adaptations of the well-known (and well-loved) story of the detective who is slightly neurotic — even nefariously so — but extremely observant. Delving into Sir Doyle’s writing techniques, we have Forest Leo (great name!), author of The Gentleman (great title!). Leo talks to us about how Sir Doyle specifically knew how to create worlds within his short stories — specifically on Sir Doyle’s talent for creating realistic characters and detailed places. This may seem contradictory to what short story writers can do — and, in some ways you may be right. How can writers be detailed in a short story? Like what Tim Gautreaux said about short stories versus novels — aren’t details just for novels? Well, if you’ve never read The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, then you’re in for a surprise. So much detail is woven in the story that in reading just a few sentences worth, one can feel as if they’ve read an entire chapter. It truly is fantastic — perhaps this is why Leo talks about Sir Doyle’s writing with such passionate fervor.
”Holmes and Watson are different, though. Yes, you remember the stories in the way I just described – but there’s an added element. You have friends. The lithe chemist and sturdy military doctor walk beside you down the street, drink coffee with you, remind you to notice every detail and omit nothing. They are, in a word, real.”
’What J.D. Salinger Can Teach Us About The Present’
”The truth is, I can get so bogged down in my characters’ pasts that I tend to forget that present scenes with urgency and high stakes can be the most engrossing elements of fiction.”
Mandy Berman, author of Perennials, sums up her main reason for always returning to J.D. Salinger — keyword: present. She talks about how, in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Salinger uniquely constructs a story with “little exposition” alongside some backstory that is only revealed through present action or dialogue. Giving examples from the story that is (most likely) copyrighted and so can’t be reproduced here, Berman shows us that Salinger uses dialogue to tell readers important information: the year the story is taking place (here, it is 1948), the place where one main character once lived (Germany), and the mental state of the main character, to name a few. Berman ends by talking about how she has used “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” as an example of creating active scenes, using dialogue, and creating a good ending — which, in terms of using dialogue to reveal hints and clues on a character’s backstory, is pretty useful advice when writing anything creative.
”Salinger teaches me that fiction is far less about subject matter and far more about the craft of storytelling in itself.”
’7 Thoughts On Getting A Short Story Collection Published’
I saved the best for last because I feel that learning about getting your — presumably — finished manuscript published should be an action best done when ready. Julianne Pachico, author of The Lucky Ones guides us through this chapter. It’s pretty much straight forward:
1. Read the collections you want to write
2. Think about your collection’s theme
3. Submit, submit, submit! Everywhere.
4. Submit! However, hold on to your best work (for later “bigger” publications)
5. Public acclaim ≠ how good or worthwhile your work is
6. Publishing a short story collection ≠ a big advance (instead, work on a novel)*
7. Short story writing is a great avenue for taking risks and for developing confidence through exploration.
*Pachico qualified this by being honest with her own publishing experience. After being selected to publish her short story, the question that she was consistently asked about by bigger publishers was whether or not she was writing her novel. Presumably because novels make more money, thereby the writer (logically but sometimes not so) will gain a larger advance.
I hope you enjoyed this review of Signature’s Compact Guide to Short Story Writing! I’ve reviewed each part out of its traditional order — this was just a preference on my part; however, it’s one that I recommend, if inclined:
12. ‘What Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Knew About Storytelling’ (8)
13. ‘What J.D. Salinger Can Teach Us About The Present’ (24)
14. ‘7 Thoughts On Getting A Short Story Collection Published’ (29)
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