Friday, October 31, 2008

The Short Story

Well, I did it. Fifteen years have passed, and I finally wrote a new short story.

I envy those writer friends of mine who have drawers full (or is it hardrives full?) of them. Some people I know can write them on demand like a deejay taking requests:

--Um, yes, I need one to submit to this contest. Theme is Waterparks. 2000 words or less.

--Sure, when would you like it by?

--Friday, and can you give it a little mystery? I hear judges like that."

For me, writing on demand is like painting by numbers. It can be done, but WHY?

Short stories have vexed me. Most places who publish them like them to be short. This allows for more stories within a given space, and (in our attention deficit world) maximizes the chances a given story might be read. My problems start with a novelist's sensibility that has trained me for the marathon, not the sprint.

I'm still telling you about my protagonist on page 12, and while this is to be expected in the world of novel-telling, it is a tragic flaw in the short story cosmos, a flaw which most short story writers would label weakness of discipline (or editing).

So to venture back into this world was perilous at best. Could I employ the subtleties of characterization, the nuances of dialogue to tell a complete story, beginning to end, in a few pages? More importantly, could I tell a story that ventured beyond episodic, a story with purpose and import for the characters?

The answer: I don't know. But I do know this: After a painstaking week, I have 11 pages, 2,820 words. I have two characters with two major problems that for me were fascinating when put together in the same room. I chose a restaurant (brief aside here: my friend Carol reads short stories for a major U.S. literary journal, and she says that if she read one more short story that takes place over coffee in a coffee shop, she will experience violent stomach regurgitation. There is a question as to whether Carol would feel nauseous after reading my story. For the record, my characters drink red wine and whiskey.). I attempted a Carveresque ending. I took a legitimate shot at emotional pathos in a harsh world. So, does it all work?

Again, don't know. I feel satisfied. The pay off with a novel comes at the end, which means, every few years, I can say I have finished something. This week, I can say I finished something (or abandoned it, as the Valery quote goes) for better or for worse. I think I like it. But most importantly, I did something I didn't think I could do.

1 comment:

Carol Peters said...

I have never said I "would experience violent stomach regurgitation." I said "I would barf."