Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Long thoughts on short stories

The fun of writing short stories is that you can write the “what if?”, but you don't have to write the whole arc. You can write a disaster, but you don’t have to solve it.  If in a novel (at least, in my novels), you have to have the triumph of the hero who struggles against a tragedy, in a short story you can just depict the tragedy itself.

The short story form is freer. You don’t – ha! – you don’t have to tell the whole story. Yes, it has to have movement. You have to have a change, or a decision, or a revelation. It’s not a static scene. That’s not interesting. It has to have movement.

But for someone like me, who believes that the story of, well, everything has, at its heart, a redemptive arc, and that that arc is at the heart of every good story – or that it at least has to be possible (there are tragedies where redemption is refused) – the short story allows for more experimentation. Because it's not the whole thing. It’s a small sliver. It’s a piece. It’s five minutes of the two-hour movie. It’s a scene.

And it better be a compelling scene. It better matter, it better mean something . . . but it doesn’t carry the weight that a longer piece of art – like a novel – has to carry. It can’t.

It can let you feel something – let you feel something exquisitely – without explaining all the rest of it. You get a little piece. It’s a sketch, a snippet, a sample.

And it’s fun to get to do that, especially when you’re used to writing things that take you months and months to complete. It’s fun to do something quick – something whose composition takes you a day, an hour – maybe only a few minutes.

I imagine the feeling is similar to what artists who work on 6’ canvases in oils feel when they get to do a 5-min. watercolor sketch.

Sometimes, short stories come out of “this feels like a little idea. I want a little canvas for it.”
Sometimes, short stories come out of the “this feels like a big idea, but I just want to highlight this tiny piece of it.”

They’re their own art form. And I’m not arguing that the short story is either inferior or superior to the novel.

It’s just that, as a novelist who’s now experimenting with shorter forms, I’m enjoying figuring out what works here, and why it works.

It’s fun!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


christinethecurious said...

It's a design swatch, not a sweater.

Jessica Snell said...

Christine, I *love* that metaphor - it's perfect!