segunda-feira, abril 03, 2017

Cardamom Pod to Chew: "How to Write Short Stories And Use Them to Further Your Writing Career" by James Scott Bell



Sushi is flipping delicious regardless of whether or not it's fashionable. It is tasty, tasty, tasty goodness, just the same as Toad in the Hole or a bowl of tomato soup with white plastic bread and butter. That is, when it’s not shit, but I guess it depends what we mean by shit. I've always found the real enemy of literature to be "good writing" - stuff that's OK and technically competent but utterly lacking any spark. Of course that covers a massive ability spectrum, but I think it accounts for the great majority of what finds its way to a lot of slush. Absolutely agree about the paucity of really good writing Bell writes about. I used to read short fiction slush back in the day (Analog, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Omni, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Amazing Stories (the revamped version)), and a few others). I read several hundred thousand stories and only found a few authors who really had the goods.

I love writing a bit of short fiction now and then, it makes a change from the churn of posts. It sometimes feels like revving the engine on a car to blow the soot away, clearing my "writing pipes" and enjoying the racing feeling. The beauty of a short fiction piece for me is also that I don't have to plan an ending, I can just see where it goes, let it lead me in the same way it'll lead a reader (hopefully) and often the ending is a twist I didn't imagine until it fell out of my fingers onto the keyboard.

As for there not being much of a market for it? Well, granted I've not made much money (any) from it, but the genre is suited perfectly to the masses of e-readers and smart phones being used on night time commutes and waiting room sentences, what better way to spend twenty minutes on the tube in Lisbon than imagining you are on a bus in Barbados?

One thing short fiction does for me is teach me how to zero in on the one kernel at the heart of what they are doing that can be reduced no further, and that is surely a skill invaluable to any writer. It also makes you fight to have your voice heard - any restriction will do that, hence their value. If you can make your voice your own between 1K and 7K words that's an incredible skill, and one that should you choose to lift the restrictions will make that voice sing out gloriously.

Short fiction isn't particularly satisfying for a reader looking for a piece of fiction, I agree, just as being given a cardamom pod to chew is pretty unsatisfying when you're looking for a meal; but if you're coming to short fiction with the same kind of expectations you'd have for a poem, it can be a lot of fun.

As a shitty writer, short fiction is a useful and enjoyable exercise for tightening up prose and condensing narrative effectively. Working within a rigid structure, whether it's writing a sonnet or a villanelle or tweet, can be an effective and inspirational discipline in its own right.

With all respect for the individuals writing short fiction for the Kindle, this book demonstrates perfectly why arbitrary rules like those of short fiction aren't a good idea. I've read a lot of short stories published for the Kindle, and with a few largely generic exceptions - stories told in dialogue or in the personae of children or animals, plus a few by people who just can't write - they might all have been written by the same person. Short sentences, simple words, the occasional “verbless” sentence (like this one) for variety: identical rhythms running through all of them. Everything the summer-schools teach you. I bet none of you would dream of using an adverb with a verb of speech, would you? Or creating a character whose complete backstory you didn't know, even if you weren't going to use any of it? Or - heaven forbid - economically telling the reader an unimportant detail if it could possibly be 'shown' (whatever that means in written narrative) at twice the length instead, though without becoming any more informative in the process? All the rules that real writers broke through the centuries, and still break now, today's writers keep as they were told to, until they have nothing new to say because no way of saying anything that hasn't already been said - isn't being said in the same moment by thousands like them throughout the Anglophone world. I'm doing it myself, listen. Are you listening? Except, I suppose, for cutting that paragraph into equal short lengths, regardless of the unit of meaning it represents, the way they taught me at the British Council.

And because I can. Here goes my own attempt at sounding smart and cultivated by writing a very short, short piece of fiction:

Pen: Uniball eye micro by Mitsubishi.
Paper: A4 spiral pad.
Microsoft Word 2007: turned on and ready to go.
Brain: willing.
Aim: To write that novel I always had in me.

I knew what I wanted it to be about. It would be a perpetuating tragedy, with an underlying social commentary. The pathological of the individual against a backdrop of rising tension between groups of different backgrounds. There would be sex, death, hope, hate, love, anger and revenge. I had done my research. I knew how I wanted to start. I knew the chronology of events that would create my story. And I knew how it would end. The concept was complete, ready to be executed. And there I sat, at the computer screen, pen in mouth, nibbling away at it. I was thirsty, hungry, twitchy. A glance at the clock: five to nine. That show on RTP2 will be starting any minute…Maybe I should write this masterpiece some other time.

2 comentários:

Book Stooge disse...

I agree with your assessment of short works. Which is why I almost never read just "one" short story. I'll get a whole book of them, like a whole bag of popcorn :-)

I think that writers do need to keep to the rules UNTIL they've learned when to break them. Once they've made that jump [and I'm not sure if it's a skillful jump or an intuitive jump] then I'll start calling them an author and not a just a writer.

Manuel Antão disse...

I had never of the distinction between writer and author in those terms, but it's quite apt.