Monday, 28 January 2013

FLASH FICTION: the art of short story writing

I think the short story form is a particularly great medium both to be creative and show literary flair. As with all writing, but particularly that of the short story, there is a fine balance that must be met. A sense that one’s refined prose has left much unsaid, but revealed enough to the point that you have manipulated your reader’s response to character and plot. Similarly, I believe the mark of a true short story is one that stays with you once you have turned the final pages- and for reasons you sometimes do not know. In striving to achieve this lasting and maximum impact, it requires much skill- one that has been witnessed few times within each generation.

“The best stories take you somewhere new, somewhere different, or they take you somewhere you might have been before but by a different route. They help you see the world afresh. They wake you up and make you dream, both at the same time”. Nicholas Royle

I was initially inspired by the postmodern short stories of Raymond Carver and J.D Salinger. They epitomise the distinctive style of this form through their objective and minimalistic narratives. They are undeniably linked by their heavy emphasis on spontaneous, uncontrived dialogue- it drives the narrative and leaves characters exposed to the extent that their humanity is palpable. I love the sense of irony- the fact that despite presenting the reader with such an unembellished and detached prose, they maintain a purity and intensity of emotion. A quality that in this instance is instrumental in reflecting the disillusionment and alienation of the post-war era.

A selection of favourite short stories-

“Neighbours”, Raymond Carver
A classic choice from the so-called “Godfather of the American Short Story”.  As he exposes the peculiar antics of his characters alone in someone else’s apartment, he reveals the universal desire to live the life of somebody else. The story ends as his characters hit a wall of realisation- the emptiness of their own lives. Robert Altman director of the film adaptation describes his own journey through the collection as “it all began here. I was a reader turning these pages. Trying on these lives”. Love the quote!

“Collectors”, Raymond Carver
Notoriously ambiguous. My sister studied “Short Cuts” for A Level and their teacher sheepishly avoided all direct questions to the meaning of this one. Eventually telling them to leave it out when considering essay choices in the exam! However, I’ve included it in the selection as I feel it reveals more about Carver’s distinct style than possibly any of the others in this collection. The exchange between a salesman and unnamed protagonist appears on the surface to be mundane- but on reflection it’s littered with an oppressive sense of suburban ennui and a life fallen short of the American Dream.

Any from the collection entitled “Nine Stories”, J.D Salinger
It’s often said that “The Catcher in the Rye” was a “one hit wonder”, but I believe these works to be a masterpiece in their own right. His signature simple and conversational style lives on. It’s evident that it contributed to the development of Carver’s own unique literary style.

“The Bloody Chamber”, Angela Carter
This one is such a contrast to the previous choices. Where the postmodern American works are objective and minimalistic, Carter’s style is overtly subjective and sensual. The context plays equal relevance to this story as her feminist criticism of female subjugation openly challenges attitudes within late 20th century Britain.

“Flora”, David Rose
I came across this one in a modern short story anthology. It’s a story that will leave you with more questions than answers but truly enjoyable all the same. The narrative has such a propulsion- that for me, marks this story as a great one.

Short stories of Saki.
I’ll admit I’ve only had a taster of this but he is considered the master of British Short Story writing- so it’d be rude not to.

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