I’ve recently drowned myself in short stories, that underrated art form. People think that short stories are anecdotes or flash fiction or these bite sized pieces of candy that disappear as quickly as you ingest them. Not so, short stories are as immersive as novels, sometimes the format allows for better writing because the onus is on the writer to concisely pack in as much narrative as the reader can handle. Every word has to have meaning, unlike in novels where meandering is allowed in the way books are digested. I always thought that short stories were the size of essays, around 1,000 to 2,000 words, but now I see that the artform is more flexible than that. For me the novel is like a journey across landscapes with a bunch of characters, but the short story is more like a walk through a new town that reveals itself in different ways and opens up to you as you go along until you reach the end of its circumference. Or one can also say that short stories are like peeking into windows on unknown houses and observing who the inhabitants of that house are as long as you can without being found out.
So far these are the short stories I’ve read:
- Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat.
- Raymond Carver’s A Small Good Thing.
- Jia Tolentino’s The Odyssey.
- Joni Paloni’s The Third Element.
And I intend reading much more. It’s hard to read short stories continuously though because the ones above paint indelible images of otherwise forgettable people: She waves a wooden stirrer, twirling tiny circles like it’s a magic wand. The paint fumes make her feel a little heady, reminiscent of sleepovers when half a dozen girls painted their nails in the attic room with the windows closed (from The Third Element). In two sentences we know so much more about the character and her past. I guess it’s also a matter of finding the right elements that produce the right backstory about the characters that reveal who they are, which is also not an easy task. What’s interesting about the short story is that it isn’t like the short film. Most short films exist as an exercise in duping the audience by pushing them in one direction for a majority of the fim and then pulling the ground beneath their feet with a twist and revealing something entirely new. The short story on the other hand, the more enlightening ones at least, have no intention of trickery or duping and instead rely on meditative and objective storytelling that is slow, but ends at the right point in the larger story of its characters.
Apart from The Black Cat, these stories are literary fiction and are not connected to any genre and examine the ordinary and the mundane with exquisite detail that it’s quite inspiring. I shall try my hand at them and see what happens and hope for the best. For a start, Kurt Vonnegut has some useful tips on writing short stories.
I’ll leave you with an insightful interview of Raymond Carver with The Paris Review.