The End. I meant to include that phrase at the end of my last post, “Lady Yellow Slippers, Part V”. If you’ve read it, please send me a comment. Any comment will do. You could respond with “Your writing stinks!” or “What’s up with the birds?” You could tell me, “No one would ever use the word ‘ciggies’”. I’ll take whatever you’ve got.
Writing is like conducting lab experiments – mostly you fail, but you keep doing trial after trial. When you write like I do, mostly in a vacuum, you crave feedback. I know, I know. Why don’t I stop whining, and take a workshop? But until then, hit me with your best shot.
I just read an interview with A.G. Wodehouse, who, at the time of the interview, had been writing for seventy years. He said that when he started writing, in his early twenties, he sent out lots of stories and got lots of rejections. You see, he said, when you first start to write, you write lots of awful stuff. What a relief! Isn’t it comforting to know that even the great writers don’t come out of their mothers’ wombs publishing pieces in The Paris Review? We all have to start somewhere, don’t we?
Since I’m beginning to write short stories, I’ve been reading lots of them lately. At this very moment, George Saunders’ Tenth of December is in my purse. Saunders’ stories absolutely transport me. As I make my way through his book, I’ve been reflecting on the characteristics of a great short story. I’ve started a list of characteristics. First on my list: complex characters. Why? They are credible. We readers are human beings, and human beings are complex. If characters don’t mirror actual human beings, the story won’t work, will it? Second on my list: humor. Even the darkest story has the potential for humor. In fact, the darkest stories require humor to function as a relief valve (kind of like life, right?). Take Dorothy Parker’s “Just a Little One” as an example. In this story, a woman simply talks to her date, as she consumes high balls. The more she drinks, the more her character unfolds. Parker writes lines so clever, and with such perfect timing, they make you laugh aloud. And yet, even though her story makes you laugh, it is both dark and sad. Complexity, check. Humor, check. The same things could be said for Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” or Junot Diaz’s “The Sun and the Moon”.
Third on my list: imagination. For a story to hold us captive, it must be imaginative. It must be novel. It must make us think, “How on earth did he/she come up with THAT?” Karen Russell’s “from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration” is the story of a family’s journey to the western frontier. The father is a Minotaur. That’s right, a Minotaur. How on earth did she come up with THAT? The very premise of the story is imaginative. If Russell had written a story about a family’s westward journey, you might have thought, ho hum. The Minotaur turns this story on its head. It kicks down the doors of our imaginations.
What would you add to my list? Send me some ideas and the names of your favorite short stories. We all love stories, don’t we? We share them. We hand them down from generation to generation. We use them to connect with one another. We tell stories to convey what it means to be human. Isn’t it funny how being human doesn’t change much over time? The set and props may change, but the play is the same.
Great stories are timeless, as is our need for connection. For me, writing is about connecting with people. It’s also about following my passion and being vulnerable. It’s scary posting your writing online. It’s like going to the grocery store naked. But it’s also rewarding and stimulating. The more I share my writing and passion for writing with others, the more others open up to me. The more we connect. So go ahead – go to the grocery store naked. See what happens.