Thursday, May 25, 2017

Short Story Month 2017-Part 11: Dream and Desire in the Short Story

Short Story Month 2017-Part 11: Dream and Desire in the Short Story

Jarrell, Randall:  “Reading stories, we cannot help remembering that ‘We have to reckon with what exists, and dreams, daydreams, too, are also facts; if anyone really wants to investigate realities, he cannot do better than to start with such as these.  If he neglects them he will learn little or nothing of the world of life.”

Joyce Carol Oates:  “The short story is a dream verbalized, arranged in space and presented to the world, imagined as a sympathetic audience: the dream is said to be some kind of manifestation of desire, so the short story must also represent a desire, perhaps only partly expressed, but the most interesting thing about it is its mystery.”

Christina Stead:  "The belief that life is a dream and we the dreamers only dreams, which comes to us at strange, romantic, and tragic moments, what is it but a desire for the great legend, the powerful story rooted in all things which explains life to us and, understanding which, the meaning of things can be threaded through all that happens."

Alice Munro: “We can hardly manage our lives without a powerful ongoing narrative. And underneath all these edited, inspired, self-serving or entertaining stories there is, we suppose, some big bulging awful mysterious entity called THE TRUTH, which our fictional stories are supposed to be poking at and grabbing pieces of.

Robert Olen Butler: “Fiction is the art form of human yearning.” Butler cites Joyce’s famous theory of epiphany--that moment in the story when something about the human condition shines forth in its essence.  Butler says this is the result of the yearning present in all the separate organically resonant moments in the fiction accumulating to a critical mass.  It is just that because of its brevity, these two moments typically occur at the same time in the short story. “The final epiphany of a literary short story is also the shining forth of the character’s yearning.”  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Short Story Month 2017-part 10: Short Story Writers on Thematic Significance

Short Story Month 2017-part 10: Short Story Writers on Thematic Significance

V. S. Pritchett: The short story wakes the reader up. "It answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience, the desire for the electric shock."

Sherwood Anderson: “The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, whereas in the artist’s imaginative life…there is determination to give the tale form—to make it real to the theme, not to life.  Often the better the job is done, the greater the confusion.

C., S. Lewis:  To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series…s only really a net whereby to catch something else.  The real theme may be and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state of quality… It may be asked why anyone should be encouraged to write a form in which the means are apparently so often at war with the end…. I suggest that the internal tension in the heart of every story between the theme and the plot constitutes, after all, its chief resemblance to life. . In real life, as in a story, something must happen.  That is just the trouble.  We grasp at a state and fond only a succession of events in which the state is never quite embodied.

Frank O’Connor:  The greatest essential of a short story is a theme, a story to tell.  A theme is something that is worth something to everybody. You grab somebody and say, “Look, an extraordinary thing happened to me yesterday—I met a man—he said this to me—”and that, to me, is a theme. The moment you grab somebody by the lapels and you've got something to tell, that's a real story.  The moment you say this, you're committed

Raymond Carver:  It is possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things--a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring--with immense, even startling power.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—part 9: Short Story Writers on Unity of Impression

Short Story Month 2017—part 9:  Short Story Writers on Unity of Impression
Ambrose Bierce: The only way to get unity of impression from a novel is to shut it up and look at the covers.

Chekhov: "The short story, like the stage, has its conventions.  My instinct tells me that at the end of a story I must artfully concentrate for the reader an impression of the entire work, and therefore must casually mention something about those whom I have already presented.  Perhaps I am in error."

Edgar Allan Poe:  A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents--he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect... In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design."

          Edith Wharton:  The least touch of irrelevance, the least chill of inattention, will instantly undo the spell, and it will take as long to weave again as to get Humpty Dumpty back on his wall.

Wells Tower: It's very easy to write a terrible short story: you just write something and then stop.

John Wain:  There are perfectly successful short stories, and there are totally unsuccessful ones, and there’s nothing in between.

Richard Ford:  If stories fail, then they don’t make a short story.  It’s like bread.  Either it’s a loaf of bread or it’s doughy goo.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 8: Short Story Writers on Mystery in the Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 8: Short Story Writers on Mystery in the Story

Joy Williams:  “A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the dark.  The writer doesn’t want to disclose or instruct of advocate, he wants to transmute and disturb. He cherishes the mystery…. he wants to escape his time, the obligations of his time, and, by writing, transcend them.”

Flannery O’Connor:  "The particular problem of the short story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible...The type of mind that can understand [the short story] is the kind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery."

Flannery O’Connor:  “The short story is] a form in which the writer makes alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe everyday, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life.... Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected."

Catherine Brady: “Every good story has to risk being obscure, aimless, about nothing if it is to sustain that ‘something wild’ not within reach, not enclosed in the story because it cannot be named or identified in any single passage.”

Alice Munro:” I write because I want to get a feeling of mystery or surprise. Not a mystery that finishes you off, but something that makes the character or reader wonder. I don’t really like interpretations. I don’t want to make definite explanations.”

Amy Hempel: “I  don’t like having anything spelled out. Of course, mystery is not vagueness. Mystery is controlled. It involves information meted out only as needed. I not only don’t want the explanation, I want the mystery.”

Eudora Welty:   "The first thing we notice about our story is that we can't really see the solid outlines of it--it seems bathed in something of its own. It is wrapped in an atmosphere. This is what makes it shine, perhaps, as well as what initially obscures its plain, real shape.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 7: Subjectivity of the Short Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 7: Subjectivity of the Short Story

Mary Lavin: “I feel that it is in the short story that a writer distills the essence of his thought.  I believe this because the short story shape as well as matter, is determined by the writer’s own character.  Both are one.”

Eudora Welty:  “All of one writer’s stories must take on their quality, carry their signature, because of one characteristic lyrical impulse of his mind—the impulse to praise, love, to call up, to prophesy.  Something in the outside world, some person, place, thing, leads back to the emotions in a specific way, it is the break of the living world upon what is stirring inside the mind, and the answering impulse that in a moment of high consciousness fuses impact and image and fires them off together.”

Elizabeth Bowen:  "The first necessity for the short necessariness. The story, that is to say, must spring from an impression or perception pressing enough, acute enough to have made the writer write.”

Sherwood Anderson: “Having, from a conversation overheard in some other way, got the tone of a tale, I was like a woman who has just become impregnated.  Something was growing inside me.  At night when I lay in my bed I could feel the heels of the tale kicking against the walls of my body.”

Erskine Caldwell:  “To transform a simple incident into a story, You get a kind of fever, I suppose, mentally and emotionally, that lifts you up and carries you away. You have to sustain this energy you’ve gotten to write your story. By the time you’ve finished, all your energy, your passion, is spent. You’ve been drained of everything.”

Lorrie Moore:  “Perhaps, in many ways, it’s a more magical form. Who knows sometimes where stories come from? They are perhaps more attached to the author’s emotional life and come more out of inspiration than slogging. You shouldn’t write without inspiration—at least not very often.”

Clark Blaise:  “With the short story, the beginning is the end, it seems to me.  If you yield to the magic of a beginning, which just seizes you, and you can continue it…if something in that beginning is pushing you, then yes, you won’t give it up, you’ll know that there was a crack in it somewhere that allowed you to see another dimension, so you’ll stick with it.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 6: Short Story Writers on Time in the Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 6: Short Story Writers on Time in the Story

Julio Cortezar:  The short-story writer knows that he can’t proceed cumulatively, that time is not his ally.  His own solution is to work vertically, heading up or down in literary space.

Maurice Shadbolt:  The real challenge is to pull as much of life as a story can bear into the fewest possible pages: to produce, if possible, that hallucinatory point in which time past and time future seems to co-exist with time present, that hallucinatory point which to me defines the good or great short story..."

           Russell Banks:  The short story and the novel bear greatly different relations to time. The novel, I think, has a mimetic relation to time. The novel simulates the flow of time, so once you get very far into a novel, you forget where you began—just as you do in real time. Whereas with a short story the point is not to forget the beginning. The ending only makes sense if you can remember the beginning. I think the proper length for a short story is to go as far as you can without going so far that you have forgotten the beginning.

Jayne Anne Phillips:  “I think that stories in reality are often circular; past and present and future are mixed up in terms of the way we think; and the closer a story can get to that—the more completely it can represent that—the more timeless the story becomes.

David Means:  In a short story you’d better do something with time or it’ll feel short.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 5: Short Story Writers on the Novel vs. Short Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 5: Short Story Writers on the Novel vs. Short Story

Isak Dinesen:  "I see today a new art of narration, a novel literature and category of belles-lettres, dawning upon the world. And this new art and literature--for the sake of the individual characters in the story, and in order to keep close to them and not be afraid--will be ready to sacrifice story itself.... The literature of individuals is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story.... Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: 'Who am I?'"

A.E. Coppard: “First I want to crush the assumption that the short story and the novel are manifestations of one principle of fiction, differentiated merely by size.  In fact, the relationship of the short story to the novel amounts to nothing at all.  The novel is a distinct form of art having a pedigree and practice of hardly more than a couple of hundred years; the short story, so far from being its offspring, is an ancient art originating in the folk tale, which was a thing of joy even before writing, not to mention printing, was invented… The folk tale ministered to an apparently inborn and universal desire to hear tales.”

Deborah Eisenberg: “There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on about the demands of doing something long, something that looks just slightly more conventional.”

H. E. Bates:  “The short story, whether short or long, poetical or reported, plotted or sketched, concrete or cobweb, has an insistent and eternal fluidity that slips through the hands…. The novel is predominantly an exploration of life…The development of character, the forward movement of time, have always been and perhaps always will be the pulse and nerve of the novel.  But in the short story time need not move, except by an infinitesimal fraction; the characters themselves need not move; they need not grow old; indeed there may be no characters at all.”

Grace Paley: For me, somehow, the short story is very close to the poem in feeling and not so close in feeling to the novel, although it’s about the same people that a novel would be about. But what it tries to say is the poem of those lives.

Anne Beattie: “I don’t think that short stories have all that much in common with novels.  A story re-creates for me more directly what my sense of the world is; a short story writer has to use language differently from a novelist.”

Annie Proulx:  “The construction of short stories calls for a markedly different set of mind than work on a novel, and for me short stories are at once more interesting and more difficult to write than longer works.  I think the short story is a superior form. It’s definitely more difficult than writing a novel.”

William Faulkner:  "A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry...A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has."

            Grace Paley:  I really am in love with the story form, so I can’t say the novel will do something a short story can’t.  I would just say they probably do something different. And I’ve never been really clear about it.

George Saunders:  The novel and the short story “are, at their origin, very different… In a novel the whole point is the little constructions along the way… A chance to describe a certain household or a certain while-travelling phenomenon.  And the plot is just a way to link these together, and, in a sense justify them…. Whereas in a story the progression of the plot is what the whole machine is ultimately judged against.  You can do the other things—description, dialogue, etc., but any piece that is inessential to the sense that this thing is moving forward, and along a certain thematic track is felt as extraneous.”

William Carlos Williams: What are the advantages of the short story as an art form?  One clear advantage as against a novel—which is its nearest cousin—is that you do not have to bear in mind the complex structural paraphernalia of a novel in writing a short story and so may dwell on the manner, the writing. 

Edith Wharton:  “The chief technical difference between the short story and the novel may be summed up by saying that the situation is the main concern of the short story, character of the novel; and it follows that the effect produced by the short story depends almost entirely on its form, or presentation.  The short story, free from the longuers of the novel is also exempt from the novel's conclusiveness--too often forced and false: it may thus more nearly than the novel approach aesthetic and moral truth."

William Faulkner:  “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.”

Frank O’Connor: "The short story, compared with the novel, is a lonely, personal art; the lyric cry in face of human destiny, it does not deal as the novel does with types or with problems of moment, but with what Synge calls 'the profound and common interests of life'."

Nadine Gordimer:  "The strongest convention of the novel, prolonged coherence of false to the nature of whatever can be grasped of human reality.... where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, not there, in darkness. Short-story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing one can be sure of--the present moment."

           Richard Bausch:  T”he short story is such a persistent form:  For the fact is that there are matters of the spirit the short story addresses better than any other literary art."

Lee K. Abbott: Stories are sometimes as demanding to read as they are to write, and frankly writing a couple hundred pages or three or four hundred pages of that kind of thing would kill me, exhaust the hell out of me.

John Cheever:  I do think that if it is good, it is perhaps the most intense form of writing that I’ve ever had any experience with.  The last story I wrote that I liked—I felt as though it had been written out of my left ventricle—I thought ‘I don’t want to write any more short stories, because you don’t fool around…. With a short story, you have to be in there on every word; every verb has to be lambent and strong.  It’s a fairly exhausting task, I think.”