Literary agnosia and the short story

The DrawerWriters of every genre will recognise the scourge of familiarity; the sense of intimacy with your own work which is so great that it renders your powers of objectivity impotent. Does this story work? Have I chosen the right phrasing? What should I cut? The questions keep coming but no one answers.

When I’m working on a piece, particularly a short story in which every paragraph must count for something, I often lose all perspective. And returning to the page every day only seems to make the condition more acute; proximity threatens to destroy creativity, like a magnifying glass burning ants as it concentrates the sun’s rays. The pressure to produce and finish stories leads to unsatisfactory conclusions or improbable characters, and I think that sometimes I’m writing simply because I feel I have to and not because I want to… or can, for that matter.

So what do we do? Continue reading “Literary agnosia and the short story”

Writer’s block… Oh, it’s real

Writer’s block, A.K.A the bogey man

He lurks behind a milk curtain, morse-coding reprimands and insults with my own cursor. Six dots and a jarring ‘Oh!’ (The exclamation mark is implied).

“It’s you again,” he says. “Did you know that your last idea for a plot was terrible? It was worse than terrible. It gave me migraines in my stapes, and I don’t even have stapes. Where are you taking that wretched creature? That ‘character’, as you name him? Preferably somewhere to die. Because that’s where he’s headed if you start typing – right into the grave. He’ll be pushing up digital daisies before bedtime and you’ll be ten thousand words in the red. Just like I told you.” Continue reading “Writer’s block… Oh, it’s real”

Why rejection letters are the new Xanax

14-rules-of-storytellingI was hay making through the chaff in my inbox recently when I stumbled across a curt email from [enter not-so-prominent journal name here] informing me that my piece entitled [enter short story title] had unfortunately been rejected.

I can’t remember my precise reaction – it may have involved scratching my behind, or sucking out the remaining juice from the Tetley bag stranded at the bottom of the teapot – but it went along the lines of, ‘whatever’. Continue reading “Why rejection letters are the new Xanax”

Pixar’s 22 tips for telling a ripping story

There’s a cart-load of advice out there for would-be storysmiths; everything from websites explaining how to go about self-publishing, right down to books that cover the finer points of stringing together an intelligible sentence.

But the most important and fundamental skill of fiction writing, the marrow if you will, is effective story writing. IT’S THE STORY STOOPID! And, at least in my case, it’s the most challenging.

Fortunately, once in a while you come across advice that is so so incisive that you feel inspired (and somewhat relieved) just reading through them.  You think, “Hey, you’ve just summed up in one paragraph what that other book couldn’t do in twelve chapters.” Although they’ve now been out there a good while, the collected tweets of Emma Coats, former storyboard artist at Pixar, is such advice. It’s all the wisdom she has accumulated working on major animated films and it’s essential reading for fiction writers of all persuasions… yes, even short story writers. Continue reading “Pixar’s 22 tips for telling a ripping story”

Short stories, not attention spans

When fans queue to see the movie Ender’s Game later this year, many of them will know that the movie is based on Orson Scott’s card 1985 novel of the same name.

It’s safe to assume that a great deal of them will have also read the book and the subsequent titles in the series too. But I would bet that only a handful would know (mostly the hardcore fans) that the idea and many of the characters in Ender’s Game had humble beginnings in a short story, published in Analog magazine in 1977.

Whenever I hear about short stories that have triggered the creation of a larger work, or when I read the works of Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, or the dozens of other short story writers whose ideas ‘made it’, not only am I comforted by the thought that I’m not wasting my time learning the craft, but also by the promise that a short story can lead to bigger things. In my case, I hope my journey into short fiction will lead to a novel.

Continue reading “Short stories, not attention spans”