Sunday, 21 February 2010

On Writng Short Stories

The process of writing short stories comes as one whole thing. I could spend either an hour or a of days and I'd always write something quite short, like 2 pages long, i.e. “short” story. I've been working on adapting a style of writing since 2005. But I only began to see this style around 2007 when I was being influenced by Hemingway, Beckett and Pinter. And using cryptic metaphors I'd find in Sylvia Plath's poetry and the dead-pan tone in Bukowski.

These stories were usually two-character narratives (which began as third person, but now mostly first). The characters play off one another and it is written like a play, but written in prose. The dialogue works its way to tell the story, such as a conversation between 2 people, of which is no one's business but theirs. They don't tell the reader enough on purpose. I hardly give characters names for this reason, and for the reason of identity. Saying this, the identity of characters is no ruined, per se, but altered to a sort-of sub-human or different human who have nothing but they lives and themes. And the one they talk to.

Imagine having a conversation with your friend. Why would you tell them your name mid-conversation. You already know each other.

My short stories don't go anywhere, in story and in place. The characters hardly move because they simply talk, and to build around this are these carefully crafted metaphors with the correct narrative that I'm always trying to get right. I like to write in metaphors, it makes the writing much more interesting, but there's always the risk of overdoing it and losing the whole narrative just by not making sense in that one line. It's like when I read Virginia Woolf and I began to write in these difficult lines that only made sense in my head at first and I couldn't justify them when I had to, so that made for a lot of deletions and edits. “The feathers of parakeets-their harsh cries-sharp blades of palm trees-green, too,” (Woolf, Blue & Green). The words cluttered my narrative and I never had a story, I was just trying to impress with poetic language into prose. Like the harsh, confessional words of Plath, I wanted more than I could handle, and I felt like I was copying – which I'd written in an essay describing the origins of my style at first originated through a type of stealing. (But, of course, all artists steal).

So the first instance where I found the style I wanted, I saw in Hemingway's Hill Like White Elephants in which two people talk to each other about an abortion, which is never stated anywhere in the story except for the word “operation.” Everything else is hinted at. However, the lack of Hemingway on my bookshelf meant that I couldn't possibly be so much inspired by him having read one short story out of so many stories and novels from such a great writer. (I've now taken to The Old Man and the Sea).

I've been told I write like Beckett. Or, at least, I try to. I hadn't read much of Beckett, except Malone Dies which is a novel, so how can you differentiate what is good and what is not from reading the prose of a playwright? I picked up some short radio plays to read, but it wasn't enough, so my tutor told me to watch them. I saw the short films of Not I, Play, and Eh Joe. The latter being the best I've seen. One man sitting alone and hearing a female voice in his head drive him mad. It was exactly what I wanted to write, and I loved it, too bad Beckett got there first. But with my story The Death of a Clown I knew, somewhat, of how to go about writing a story without a story.

The themes just come. Sometimes I'd already have an idea, but I never, or hardly ever, make a plan of the story. Stephen King once said that you can't plan a story, you just have to dig it up from your mind. After I've written the short piece, I'd read over it and see the themes, mostly hidden, and sometimes they'll already be repeated. I'd go over it and repeat certain images on purpose to drill in to the reader's skull what I'm trying to say, without saying it. After that, I finish. The endings of these stories are not endings at all, but just a sigh. My Scottish tutor from my University in Lancashire liked my writing, but hated how I overdid it all, and he's the one who told me to focus my writing. He said I was writing vignettes, little scenes that weren't stories at all, but scenes of stories, and that was my style. And the size was perfect to go with it.

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