Saturday, 5 August 2017

Short Stories and Magic Tricks by Savita Kalhan

I’ve been reading short stories for years. I fell in love with them when I discovered Italo Calvino when I was a student, but I think my love for short stories started much earlier, from when I was a child reading fairy tales, folk tales, and myths and legends from around the world.

I’ve been writing short stories for several years too. Aladdin’s Lamp is published in Stories from The Edge, a collection of short stories for teens.
Recently I decided to embark on a short story writing course. It’s something I’ve never done, but I’m hoping it will be fun as well as developing my writing, opening my mind to new ways of thinking and approaching short story writing.

Not every writer is interested in short story writing. Cormac McCarthy once said: “I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.” Not surprisingly, he only ever wrote two short stories, whilst at college, before turning to writing novels.

For Neil Gaiman, a “short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” That’s how I feel about short stories too. They can be as poignant and resonate with a reader as much as a novel, and in a far more accessible form. The impact of a short story does not differ from that of a novel; its brevity is only in its length, not in the emotional response it might elicit from the reader. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut. It’s good advice when every word counts.

But a short story should be as long or as short as it needs to be. F Scott Fitzgerald refused to cut The Women in the House down to fit the remit of magazines and newspapers, and only very reluctantly revised it a little after it had been rejected many times. Most submissions for short story anthologies will specify a maximum word count, and keeping within it can be tough. When a story I’ve written just won’t fit the specs, I’ve often had to sit down and write another story instead. Easier said than done. 

Unlike a novel, where there is time and space to explore themes, short stories necessarily have a different arc. "All is based on the epiphanic moment, the sudden enlightenment, the concise, subtle, revelatory detail," in the words of Alice Munro.

Two of the short story anthologies I’m really looking forward to reading are – A Change is Gonna Come, written by a collection of BAME, teen, and YA authors, and published by Stripes on 10th August.

The second is A Spot of Folly by Ruth Rendell, which is a collection of nine short stories published in magazines dating back to the 1970s. (There may be a Barbara Vine story in there too). There is a page still missing from one of her short stories – Digby Lives – I really hope the editor manages to find it!

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row,” Ray Bradbury once said. I have never been brave enough to attempt to write one short story a week, but it does pose a real challenge! It may not have been possible for Rad Bradbury to write 52 bad short stories in a row, so it’s easy for him to say that it’s not possible for other people to achieve it! Still, it is a challenge...

Over the next month I hope to be working some magic with short stories and if I manage to write four, I'll be happy!

Savita's Website


Sue Purkiss said...

I'm interested in short stories, too - what's the course you're doing, Savita?

Savita Kalhan said...

I'll email you the details, Sue.

Chitra Soundar said...

Great post - I started in short story as well - I want to do a course at some point - but I am reading this book which was recommended by an American short story writer Chitra B Divakaruni -
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
Burroway, Janet

I have been writing short stories again recently but trying to keep off it until the MA is done. Do you want to create a pact of write one a month - but I am a beginner though - my first and last one was published in 2001 or something. :)

Savita Kalhan said...

Thanks for the book recs, Chitra. Yes, I'm in - one a month, or more!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Can you imagine anything better than writing a short story every week. What a goal! I've had a few published in the past... I cut my teeth on Carson McCullers. There is is something very beguiling about a well written short story. I'm now about to set myself a challenge thanks to you Savita!

Savita Kalhan said...

Go for it, Dianne! Good luck!