It’s a slippery thing, fiction! So I looked up a few definitions.
Story: a fictional narrative of briefer length than a novella. Then I looked up ‘Novella’ and discovered that the original ‘novels’ were probably the verbal relating of news from one town to another. The news was told to entertain as well as inform. The sequence of events changed. Some was held back, making the listeners desperate to know more…and so was born the ‘art’ of the story.
Art: the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.
The short story is one of the most powerful forms of fiction. An arrangement of fictioncraft elements to elicit a response from the reader. ( Something that varies from mere enjoyment through to a real emotional punch in the gut). It is also one of the slipperiest forms of fiction –on one level it is easy to write (anyone can scribble a story in a few minutes – a sequence of events; a beginning, middle and end). But it is one of the most difficult to do well –that is the challenge for those of us who adore the form.
Maybe we love it for its power. The strength embodied in so few words, the way it can elicit a depth of emotional response that cannot be sustained (and rightly, or the reader would collapse!) for a whole novel. The way it can literally be life-changing.
Life changing? What IS this woman talking about?
I am not talking everyday page-fillers here, although they have their place. Instead, read ‘A Small Good Thing’ by Raymond Carver. Or ‘The Ledge’ by Lawrence Sargant Hall. Or ‘The Shawl’ by Cynthia Ozick. If you don’t feel changed, a little, you have not been reading properly. (All in Best American Shorts of the Century, ed: Updike)
Behind those stories is the craft of writing short fiction, applied by the masters.
I wanted a text book that would show me what was possible. Written not by a single writer but by many. By prize-winning writers who are also superb teachers. I wanted a book that did not treat me like an idiot. But neither would it treat fiction as though it was the province of academia, of the intelligent and cloistered few. It had to be fun, encouraging me to explore my own creativity whilst being solid on craft. It would not pretend that writing is a mystical happening. And it would, once I had started my journey, continue to feed me, to give me ideas, and most of all remind me that I am in the company of others.
That book now exists. It’s called Short Circuit. It has been out exactly a month today, and is already on the recommended reading lists of many writing courses. It is recommended by those behind the Bridport, Fish, Asham and Frank O Connor awards, by teachers of writing and by writers. It works.
Vanessa Gebbie’s short fiction has won many awards, including prizes at Bridport, Fish (twice), Per Contra (USA), the Daily Telegraph and the Willesden Herald, from final judges such as Zadie Smith, Tracy Chevalier, Michael Collins and Colum McCann. She is a freelance writing teacher working with adult groups at literary festivals as well as school students. In 2010 she will be teaching undergraduates at Stockholm University.
Many of her prize-winning stories are brought together for the first time in Words from a Glass Bubble (Salt, 2008). A second collection, Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures, is forthcoming.
Vanessa asks you to support independent publishers. The book can be bought direct from Salt with a 20% discount. (Also available from Amazon and the usual suspects.)
Do visit her website www.vanessagebbie.com or blog www.vanessagebbiesnews.blogspot.com and also http://www.theartoftheshortstory.com/