Friday, 17 July 2009

The trouble in my shorts

When does a Flash piece stop being that and become something else instead, a short story for example? This question has been bugging me for the last few days, mostly because I am trying to do with short stories what I did with Flash. In short - get a few pubbed, check the feedback, test the water. And the water, right now, is shallow and somewhat sticky. I am getting very nice feedback from editors - helpful, positive and so on, but it's just not there yet, not with the short story. So what's the difference?

Here's the answer that's playing me so far: Flash arrives uninvited, lounges around on the sofa of my subconscious, tells a few jokes and leaves. Short stories require afternoon tea, at the very least. They need some planning, some construction. That much is clear, but the deeper implication is more interesting: because of they way a Flash piece bubbles up, almost complete in itself, it is in essence, the piece that I wanted to write. I didn't plan it. It provoked itself. It wanted to be written.

Because a short story needs planning, on the other hand, then it is not automatically the story I wanted to write. I might think it is, but actually my planning is usually inflected by outside motivations: 'I want to get pubbed in X', 'I want to be a writer like Y', 'I want to write in this or that style' and so on. That's a problem because it's always going to lead to a story that seems forced somehow - and readers always notice. Unless I'm writing the thing I truly want to write, then it's never going to work.

An easy answer at once suggests itself: Take those Flash pieces and extend them into short stories. Since the Flash pieces turned up unannounced, they must be hinting at something. There must be something in there that wanted to be written. So why not just spin those out into shorts? Because a Flash is, by definition, complete in and of itself. It might be pushing me to think about some aspect that could feed into a short story, but it's not the story itself and it never will be. It's a Flash.

So now I am asking myself how I find out what stories are the kind I want to write. And I seem to be falling towards the idea of taking some intellectual or moral principal and posing it as a question. So, as a very broad and simple example, I might consider: "Love conquers all" - then pose it as a question: "Does love conquer all?" And suddenly I am beginning to see situations and embryonic characters. I am seeing conflicts and question. And therein lies the beginning of the stories that I want to write. All I need to do now, it seems, is find the right principles.

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