Monday, October 12, 2009

Things that People In My Social Like That I Do Not Understand -- Short Stories

Perhaps "social circle" is the wrong term here, since my social circle right now is mostly full of political types. But back in college, when I used to hang out with more literary-minded students and creative writing professors, people in my social circle liked short stories. Or, at least, understood the point of their existence. In Intro Creative Writing, everyone had to write five short stories and choose one to polish for final grading. Similarly, in Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction, you had a choice of submitting novel chapters or short stories for most individual workshop classes, but had to polish two for final letter grades. My middle and high school teachers assigned them. The other students who were good at English obligingly read them and seemed to enjoy them.

I was looking through a stack of discount books in Barnes & Noble in Arlington this weekend, and I found a cheap copy of Eudora Welty's short stories. I was tempted to buy. But I knew I'd never read it, because despite Welty's name, short stories have always struck me as sort of ew. So I left it languishing with its other neon-red-tagged bargain book companions. As I left the store, I realized that most other people wouldn't respond the same way, and I started musing about why.

I've never been able to write short stories. Well, I knocked them out for the two creative writing classes described above, as well as other exercises earlier in my educational career. Most of my professors and teachers signed off on them. But they weren't really short stories; they were novel chapters that stood more or less alone. Sometimes in college, people called me out on it. There were the obvious call-outs: "You wrote about a character with the same name for the novel chapter, is this actually connected to a bigger project?" But there were less obvious criticisms: "You're trying to develop this character much too fast in too short a space. Your project's better suited to a longer piece."

They were right. My arcs were always off. I'm comfortable writing long pieces, in which characters slowly shift and develop over hundreds of pages. I can't do character-driven short right. I wonder if it's some misplaced conservative urge; I believe that people don't fundamentally change much, and that character-driven stories are only convincing if they're over a suitably long haul.

That aside, I don't much like other people's short fiction -- even acknowledged masters of the genre, like Eudora Welty. I always feel cheated, like I want to spend more time with the characters and have been unfairly cheated of the chance.

ETA: It's actually 7:30 p.m., not 4:14. Stupid timestamp...

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