least movable

If Vinteuil is Mahomet, we may say that we have brought to him some of the least movable of mountains.

Marcel Proust, The Captive

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writing a short story

The short story is a basic unit of writing.  In most ways, the novel is simply an amalgamation of connected short stories.  For me, the short story has mostly been an exercise, practice sessions on the path to a serious work.  After hundreds of short stories, I have come to appreciate the value of the short story, in and of itself.  I still am reluctant to read short stories but I like to write them.

I don’t read them, because if they are good, I’m left hungry for the novel it should become.

The first step to writing a short story is choosing a conflict-resolution.  Every short story must have a conflict-resolution.  Now, I’m aware that there are writers who skip this step, but from my perspective, they are not writing a short story, but rather a prose tone poem. Nothing wrong with that, but it is not what we’re discussing.

That said, however, the conflict can be social, personal or psychological.  A psychological conflict can appear to be a conflictless tone-poem when written, but the subtle effects of resolution will be present.

Next, we have to decide how the story will be told.  In all cases, the resolution must come at the end of the story, or it isn’t a resolution.  So the telling of the story must introduce the conflict, develop the conflict and then resolve the conflict.  Sometimes, this series of decisions are the most difficult, because the structure requires the resolution at the end, like the punch-line of a joke.

Finally, and completely intermingled with the decision about structure, is the choice of narrator.  This may divide into several decisions.  Will the story be told first person or third person?  A first person narrator has the advantage of involvement and the disadvantage/advantage of limited knowledge.  A first person narrator must have access to enough information to tell the story.  This requirement can make first person narration impossible.  On the other hand, this requirement can allow the first person narrator to tell the story without making the reader feel like important information was simply denied to them.  A first person narrator can relate the surprise of the resolution in the same way it occurred to them.  “I didn’t know and then I found out.”

Selecting a first person narrator also involves choosing the character that will tell the story.  It can be the main character, a secondary character, a friend of a friend, a guy from the same town.

The biggest advantage of the first person narrator is that they will have their own voice.  This is the quality that makes first person narration so attractive.  Every narrator must have a voice to be engaging.

Third person narration has the advantage of knowing everything, so there is no hidden quality that escapes their view.  The worst side of third person narration is the lack of voice.  A person who knows everything is no person.  The best solution to this problem is to make the third person narrator an uninvolved first person narrator.  “I know the story, it has nothing to do with me, but I’ll tell it.”  If you look at great novels with third person narrators, you’ll usually find this contrivance.

The last touch of a short story, which defines my literary needs, is that the beginning and ending of any short story should be a reflection of the whole story and a restatement of each other.  The title should capture the resolution.  These qualities give the story a sense of pre-determination.  I knew how it would start.  I knew how it would end.  I knew what was in the middle.

The rest is just telling the story, always keeping the whole story in mind.

 

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desperately insignificant

And of course I saw corpses, and grew used to their unimportant look, for a dead man without any of the panoply of death is a desperately insignificant object.

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

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what I knew

Because I do not want to posture in this account of myself as anything other than what I was at the time of my narrative, I shall write here only of what I knew when it happened.

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

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whatever happens

“There’s just one thing to remember; whatever happens, it does no good to be afraid.”

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

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Fattie

Fattie
by David Cain

Against my better judgement, I agreed to go to Stephanie’s party. I’m not usually keen on parties of any kind but this was a work party, put together to help Steph solidify some connections, raise her value and smooth her road to success. I wouldn’t have agreed to help out but I owed Steph. More than once, she had helped me so I sucked it up and attended the shindig.

Crowded, noisy and excited, minutes trudged like hours as I sipped my drink leaning against the frame of an unused doorway. Steph stopped by periodically to check on me, make sure I was holding up and point out this or that fellow who, while conservative in their drive to be rich and powerful, secretly indulged in some unspeakably bizarre fetish. I think she thought she was doing me a favor, pushing me to be at the event. I hated to disappoint her, so I tried to pretend I was doing fine, enjoying myself even. I don’t think she believed me but she probably hated to disappoint me so she pretended to buy my pretend.

Finally, I plucked up my courage and told Stephanie I was leaving. She seemed broken up by my announcement, so I shifted my approach and assured her that I was only leaving for a minute, going out the car to fetch something. She shrugged her approval and I slipped out between some incoming guests.

At my first step into the night air, I felt relieved. The music and noise of the party quickly faded into a dull blur as the door closed behind me. I breathed easily for the first time in hours. I nearly ran to my car and with a quick succession of beeps, slipped into the cool, calm of my leather seats. I fell naturally into a kind of quick meditation, counting out each slow exhale, eyes closed.

When I opened my eyes, reached into the console to retrieve my weed, a knock fell upon my window pane. Despite the zen I had really started enjoying, I nearly jumped out of my skin. I looked around as the rapping continued and focused on the looming image of a woman just outside my passenger door.

“Hey, can I have some?” she asked but I only half understood her. I rolled down the window. She leaned into my car. All I saw was a mass of hair and her cleavage but that was enough. I unlocked the door and she scrambled inside.

“I’m Tewe,” she said excited while extending a small hand. “I’m a friend of Kali.”

I didn’t know anyone named Kali but I nodded as though I did.

“I saw you leaving the party and I thought, he’s going to get high. So I followed you. Can I have some too?”

I gave a wry smile and reached into the darkness and pulled out a big joint.

“Ooooh,” she said admiringly. “You’ve got a fattie.”

I hesitated at the double entendre, trying to decide if I should acknowledge her accidental joke.

“The joint’s big too,” she said with a mischievous and knowing laugh. I set the doobie on fire and played with it until the coal burned evenly orange.

“How did you know?” I asked when the first hit escaped my lungs.

“That you were smoking?” she said before taking a huge suck.

“Yeah. I don’t look like a stoner, I don’t think anyway.”

“I used to go to parties with my brother. He’s like you.”

“Good looking, suave, sophisticated.”

“Right. No, he hates parties. Whenever he got too tense, he’d sneak out to the car to blow one.”

“Sounds like a cool dude.”

“I miss him. Hey, would you mind …,” she hesitated, reached behind her, fiddled, twisted and then pulled her brassiere out from beneath her shirt. “I hate this bra.”

“Yeah, me too,” I squeaked, trying to hold my hit in as I boldly stared at her nips poking through her thin shirt. She noticed my brazen gaze and laughed, causing her tits to jiggle slightly. I gasped, filling the cabin with smoke. She took the joint from my hand and reclined the seat slightly before taking another big hit.

“I was going to leave but Stephanie seemed upset when I tried. So I didn’t.”

“Who’s that?”

“Stephanie. It’s her place, her party.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Nah. Just an old friend. I owe her, more than once.”

“Good friend. This is some primo shit.”

“Yeah, not bad. I have better stuff back home.”

“Me, too. I didn’t know where we were going so I didn’t bring any with me. Playing it safe.”

“Like when you followed a strange guy to his car and hopped in.”

“You seemed cool.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad you did.”

“You want to go back inside?” she asked as the roach burned small.

“No but I have to. Steph needs me.”

“Cool. Can I leave my bra here? I don’t want to carry it back inside.”

“I guess. Won’t you want it later.”

“Not really. Anyway, here’s my number. Give me a call after the party is over and I’ll come by and get it.”

“Groovy,” I said, slightly confused by her plan.

“Next one is on me,” she said. “You just bring your fattie. Now, let’s go party!”

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a stricken face

Leola wore a stricken face for days, and it was known that she was pining for Percy and forgave him in spite of everything, which made me cynical about women.

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

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