Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Short Story: "Then That's Good Enough For Me"

Well, the short story that I submitted was ultimately rejected. A little disappointing, yes. But not surprising considering I have never written a short story in my life. Heh. So, rather than hiding this thing away (like I'm inclined to do), I figure I should throw it out there. Maybe someone will tell me what I did wrong.

Writer's Cafe: Then That's Good Enough For Me

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Short Story Hell

Recently, one of my English professors suggested that I write a short story or poem for an upcoming contest/event. She's only read my essays, though, never my creative writing. So, what she probably doesn't know is that my track record for these things has been consistent in that my writing is never picked for anything. Granted, the last time I tried I was 10 years old and my story was a ridiculously embarrassing rip off of Titanic. (That stays between us... <_<) I love to write, and so long as I can do it anonymously, I'm emotionally golden. But this contest (though they don't call it that) requires that whoever's work is chosen, the author will read it aloud to other people while they nom on free cookies and coffee. Reading aloud I can do. Reading MY OWN stuff aloud? Might take a few years off my life.
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Let's put stage fright aside. I live to write, but there's a huge problem here. I write poetry as well as I can play sports (both resulting in concussions) and I have never written a short story in my life. The one time I was assigned to write one for school, the thing ended up being 33 pages. A novella, if anything and a terrible one that was gladly revised into my novel, Tarkington Wolf. And being without stories or ideas is rarely my issue. It's finding one that would fit into the required minimum of 7 pages that proves to be the biggest obstacle.
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I wrote it though. Yay me. It's within 7 pages, if barely, and relatively solid. But, having read a good number of short stories, and being the author of this one, I feel it's sickeningly lacking in yumph. I've revised it 10 times already, constantly cutting out informative narrative and pointless dialogue, since I have an unfortunate habit of writing out an entire conversation between characters in real time. It's like eavesdropping on people at the bus stop. The deadline for submission is in a week and frankly, I have no expectations of winning, since my story is not one of a life changing personal experience or the tale of a gay teen or anything. This is sensationalist fiction, plain and simple. That's what I do, damn it! If I can't succeed with what I do best, then why try to write something out of my range, that's what I say.
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I did do quite a bit of research in hopes of learning the basic structure and criteria of a short story. One that I've seen before is the criteria presented by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a good list of guidelines, though I don't think it applies to every story. But, for the novice short story writer, this is sage advice. Mr. Vonnegut says:
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1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way
that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or
she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if
it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal
character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent
your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the
reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a
window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as
possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such
complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could
finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
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The main point I brought with me when diving into my writing was that every short story should have a punchline. I've read a lot of short fiction that didn't seem to be going anywhere until that last line that hits you like a slap in the face. For example, Guy de Maupassant's story "The Necklace" where a woman borrows a necklace, accidentally loses it, spends ten years of her life paying it back only to find out at the end that it wasn't even worth a 6th of the debt she paid. And, probably more famously, O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," where a young married couple want to get each other gifts. He sells his watch to get her a comb, she cuts off her hair to get him a watch chain. I guess a lot of short stories could be like drawn out jokes where irony is the key to holding it all together.
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I'll end this by saying that I don't like short stories. So whoever lives in the cosmos granting points for effort, send some this way!