Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

"Writing short stories" by Courttia Newland and Tania Hershman (Bloomsbury, 2015)

This isn't just a standard "how to write" book (though it rather turns into that later on), and though it's put together by two writers, each section is written by one person (addressed by their first name, so I'll do likewise). This more personal approach makes it an interesting read. It begins with a helpful summary of the short story's history -

  • Short fiction's popularity begins temporarily to wane in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for many reasons, from the emergence of the novel to a renewed interest in drama and poetry ... The short story seems to have been hardest hit in England, where it hadn't become as popular as elsewhere (p.5)
  • It's widely perceived that the short story went through a lull after the high of the Middle Ages. The common man and woman used them as a form of ribald entertainment rather than instructions for life, or even serious art (p.18)

- later showing the influence of genre, the pros and cons of epiphany, and the way that some writers define their Flash pieces as poems. The two authors write about how they got into writing and what they think about their collections -

  • Where do stories come from? ... It's the kind of question most writers don't like to be asked, and most, including me, have developed some pat answer that closes the questioner down (p.36, Courttia)
  • I thought the other things I often do while writing - playing online Scrabble, emailing - were to distract my Inner Editor, the voice that immediately starts telling you you're rubbish. But they also keep me in the room (p.48, Tania)
  • I spent seven years learning to write short stories and not submitting anything anywhere (p.53, Tania)

Tania's happy to produce a sentence out of the blue then later try to understand it.

The most interesting section for me was "The evolution of a short story: 'Under the Tree'", where Tania describes 7 drafts of a story that took 2.5 years to write and ended up being 804 words long having been 2,200 words at one point.

On p.83 Tania writes "the gift Roy Kesey and Paddy O'Reilly gave me was permission - to take risks, do something I might not otherwise have done. Once I became aware of how I can get permission from other's work, it happens again and again". I've seen other writers use this idea of "permission" in situations where I wouldn't think of using the phrase, which hints of control and authority. I get ideas from people and their writing, and realise that I have needlessly constrained my writing. They don't have control over me, so they can't give me permission. They're most likely unaware of their effect on me. I don't need their "permission" to break the "rules". I chose to follow the "rules" and they have no authority over me.

In Part 2, which is about 30 pages long, there are some short articles by well-known writers - Doerr, Vann, etc

  • To me, it seems that there are two distinct types of epiphany. Two kinds of stories, one in which the epiphany happens within the story to the characters, who are either left in the light of that realization about to change something, or, if it's a tragic story, to acknowledge too late the reality of their situation. Then there is another kind of story, in which the character continues blithely on in error off the edge of the page without realizing anything at all, but instead it's us, the readers, who have the light bulb moment about the character. (p.91, Julia Bell)
  • The antagonist has the same problem as the protagonist, expressed in a way which antagonizes the protagonist ... The protagonist and antagonist can also fight over physical objects, which become charged with significance because of this fight, and these are called symbols (p.120, David Vann)
  • when you write a short story you're relying on an unknown quantity: your reader. With a novel you have the space to fill in all the gaps (p.121, Clare Wigfall)

In Part 3 the authors take turns to write about topics and offer exercises. Here's one

Ask the class to write about a location that meant a great deal to them when they were eight years old. They must write in present tense and use all the senses to make the piece come alive, and feel as real as it did then.
After they have shared their work, ask the group to partner up with the person to their left and pen another short piece, using their partner's location in any way they like

Tania produces a close reading of Janet Frame's "Between my father and the king", which I liked.

Other reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment