The Art of Short Stories
a guest post from Rebecca Adams Wright
I love little things. Shiny things. Broken bits of larger things. I am a human magpie, tucking crumbling robin’s eggshells or eye-catching pebbles into my pockets when I find them on the street. I cannot walk past a dropped coin even if it turns out to old be an old button. I like old buttons.
My husband laughs when he sees me pick up these treasures, because, of course, I almost never find a use for them. But they are food for the imagination, my beautiful scraps. I hoard them in little boxes and cluster them in drawers. I stumble upon them later, having completely forgotten their context, not at all sure where they came from, but still admiring. I turn them over in my hand as if for the first time and marvel at the sheen on the feather, the perfect divot in the stone.
I am a collector of odds and ends. I appreciate when the edges are ragged or the provenance unknown.
This love of small and cryptic things is one of the qualities that make me a natural short story writer.
Necessarily more compact than novels and more prosaic than poetry, short stories both speak our language and plunge us into mystery. They will present some kind of familiar anchor (though that anchor can be as small as the recognizable tweed on a button), but they may well make no other explanations. Novels unfold before you—they offer you an entry hall, a place to hang your jacket, they take you on the grand tour of all the rooms in the hotel. Novels want to offer you a whiskey and soda. Novels, even aggressive and fast-paced ones, want to be with you for a while. They want to take time.
Short stories cannot and will not offer you this. Short stories do not expect you to stay the night and order room service in the morning. They are likely to introduce you to the world by handing you a bag of untraceable gemstones and they may never get around to explaining the origins of the one-eyed ravens. Short stories can be many things: elegant, expansive, brutal, humane, lyrical, piercing, inventive. But they are never long. That means they always leave at least one thread dangling on the loom, a little spot of mystery trailing behind them.
Producing a delightful sense of mystery is not the same thing, of course, as leaving important aspects of narrative untold. The best stories are as tight and complete as nautilus shells. They create a sense of fullness precisely because they contain all that they need, and nothing more. These stories are not mysterious because they are vague. Rather, the specificity of the text’s images, characters, and situations compels the reader to keep asking questions, to imagine more than is on the page. Short stories are often compared to snapshots, and we all know that some of the best photographs manage to imply whole worlds in a space no larger than four inches by six.
The other great appeal of short stories, at least to me, is the fact that they allow for such a diversity of themes and topics, investigations and explorations. From the writer’s perspective, working in short form means that (usually) a story can be finished and shared in a fraction of the time of a novel, and without as much editorial input. Individual stories, because they do not have to represent the trajectory of a career, can take more risks, push more boundaries, wander out of comfort zones. Serious authors can be silly, mainstream authors can go genre, authors of timeless novels can engage with current events.
From a reader’s perspective, short stories can offer new angles from which to view well-known authors. Even more importantly, they create opportunities to explore new voices, unfamiliar genres, or nontraditional narrative structures without the commitment of three-hundred-plus pages. Short stories allow both writers and readers to take risks that sometimes pay enormous dividends.
All this is not to imply that I myself won’t release a novel someday. Novels offer their own set of rewards, among them the great pleasure of long immersion. I am, in fact, at work on a novel right now. But I cannot imagine ever turning my back on the short story, just as I cannot imagine walking down the street without stopping when a glint in the road catches my eye.
Look, I just found something breathtaking. Hold out your hand—I’m offering it to you.
Rebecca Adams Wright is a 2011 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and a former University of Michigan Zell Writing Fellow. She has an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan and has won the Leonard and Eileen Newman Writing Prize. Rebecca lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with her husband and daughter.
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- Paperback: 182 pages
- Publisher: Little A (February 10, 2015)
In this collection’s richly imagined title story, our brutal and resourceful protagonist is determined to protect her family from a murderous, shark-ridden world—at any cost. Elsewhere, an old woman uncovers a sinister plot while looking after a friend’s plants (“Orchids”), and a girl in the war-torn countryside befriends an unlikely creature (“Keeper of the Glass”). In “Barnstormers,” a futuristic flying circus tries to forestall bankruptcy with one last memorable show. At the heart of “Sheila” is the terrible choice a retired judge must make when faced with the destruction of his beloved robotic dog, and “Yuri, in a Blue Dress” follows one of the last survivors of an alien invasion as she seeks help.
Extending from World War II to the far future, these fifteen stories offer a gorgeously observed perspective on our desire for connection and what it means to have compassion—for ourselves, for one another, for our past…and for whatever lies beyond.
Buy, read, and discuss The Thing About Great White Sharks
Friday, February 13th: Book Snob – author guest post
Monday, February 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, February 16th: Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, February 18th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, February 19th: 5 Minutes for Books
Thursday, February 19th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Monday, February 23rd: Conceptual Reception
Tuesday, February 24th: Bibliotica review and author guest post
Tuesday, February 24th: Savvy Verse and Wit – author guest post
Wednesday, February 25th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, February 26th: The Relentless Reader
Monday, March 2nd: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, March 3rd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, March 5th: Guiltless Reading
Monday, March 9th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, March 12th: The Book Binder’s Daughter – author guest post
TBD: Bound by Words
TBD: Life is Story