This post, ironically, started out as me just posting a link, and then expanded into a post when I started to try and describe the link. To understand this irony, please see all of the words below.
I’ve been trying to get into the habit of writing some more flash fiction. (I wrote some yesterday, in fact, that I sent to the same website that posted my last piece to see if they wanted to post this one. If they don’t then I’ll post it here. Either way, it’ll be available soon.) The reason I want to write more is because I have a big old dissertation to write and I can see it sapping away the time I get to do the more fun kind of writing. Flash fiction’s a good way to keep me ticking over because I find it’s about coming up with one idea or one scene and just starting and seeing what happens. Plus 750 words or so is a lot quicker to write than a novel, I find. So, once again I’m writing a post without thinking about how it relates more directly to this blog’s ‘remit’, but I suppose I’ll say this – it’s probably a good idea to keep writing if you want to be a writer.
Anyway, back to flash fiction (although, strictly speaking, the post I’m about to link to is about short stories – normally a bit longer than flash fiction – but I think the principle about the way people read them are the same). This is a post by Sean Smith discussing the short story from his blog ersatz esoterica, and it’s where I found a link to this article by Nicholas Royle about short stories. I liked both Sean’s and Nicholas’ take on the short story.
“a story that is designed to be read in one fell swoop forces back the tedium of reality and its responsibilities. It doesn’t let you out – you are forced to maintain your suspension of disbelief until it is done.”
“There’s a particular intimacy you get with a short story, partly because you usually read it in a single sitting…Also, precisely because short stories are short, writers tend to feel more inclined to take risks, try something new.”
That last sentence is definitely true. With the bits I’ve written here and there I’ve always been trying to go for a different style, or to try something new. However, there’s a chance I could be considered some kind of nasty betrayer of short stories or flash fiction, because whenever I write one there is always a thought running through my mind about how I could apply what I’ve written to something bigger, in the hope that this small idea I’m jotting down could end up expanding into another novel.
This could be considered a good thing, it’s an exercise and a way of coming up with new ideas without being frightened by the vast word-count needed to cobble together a novel, but it also suggests that short stories for me aren’t enough on their own, that they’re incomplete novels. And I’m certain that’s not true, but, like Sean, I’m aware that short stories are not part of the curriculum, and they don’t really make their way into the canon of the ‘classics’ that everyone must read to supposedly become some kind of a real person.
Should they? Which ones do you think deserve to be? Let Sean know on his post.
Despite all of this lovely acceptance of short stories that seems to be going on in this post that I’m accidentally writing, though, this blog is meant to be, somewhere along the way, about novel-writing, and so I suppose I should try and reign it back in, and, without wanting to sound like some peddler of hideous cod-philosophy: every novel has to begin without anything at all having been written. Some people might be lucky and have the whole thing mapped out in their noggins before they’ve put pen to paper or digit to keyboard, but most of us aren’t superhuman freaks.
Cult Fiction originated in a couple of bits of nothing much I’d written. One bit was really a short story about something totally unrelated to what the novel would eventually become, but I used an idea from it to create a reasonably crucial part of the finished thing (and it was the title of this, The Platinum Staircase, that was the original title of the novel).
So, I suppose I could conclude with something like this – perhaps it’s a good idea to think small before we try to go for the big guy that is the novel. Maybe a self-contained short story is a great way to start in working towards something bigger, especially if the idea of writing a whole novel seems daunting? Although, maybe that’s a disservice to what a short story can do on its own, as a piece of fiction that can keep its readers’ attention throughout the whole story without interruption? And wouldn’t it dampens the impact of the original short story if you spent the whole time thinking about the bigger option rather than concentrating on making it work as a short story in its own right? Or maybe I’ve done it again and I’m just asking rhetorical questions that I never intend to answer? I don’t know. Whatever. I’m going to make a sandwich or something.