The Prompter Room

For Monday, November 23, 2015:

[Note: This has turned into more of a book review than a prompt, but I hope there will be some inspiration here, too!]


“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”

Henry David Thoreau

Almost all of my writing life, I’ve heard and read that crafting short stories is harder than almost any other form of writing.  Based on my experience and my latest reading material, I agree with that assertion.

The book I’m reading now is a collection of short stories from the early 1800s through the mid-late 1970s.  Most are by well-known writers in other genres — Hawthorne, James Joyce, Joyce Carol Oates, for instance — while a few others are by writers who are considered short story experts — Chekhov, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Flannery O’Connor, for instance.  There are a few by authors I’d never read before, too, so that’s been a nice surprise.

To be honest, though, I’ve found myself disappointed on more than one occasion as I read.  Not in the stories, necessarily — most are captivating — but in almost every case I’ve felt let down by the endings.  The only authors in this collection who have written what I consider satisfactory conclusions are the ‘experts’ noted above.

Most of the writers who are or were best known for their novels or creative non-fiction left me wondering why in the world they left their stories where they did.  (Interestingly, Thoreau is among them, but not Hawthorne.) Yes, writing styles and readers’ expectations have changed through the years, but still … some of these stories seemed as if the author just decided to stop writing.

If you’ve never written a short story, try it.  It is fun.  It is hard, too.  I’ve written a dozen or so over the decades, but I can count on a few fingers the ones with which I’m satisfied enough to let into the world.  One of those dozen stories turned into my first novel, but there are two or three others I hope to keep as shorts because I love the form — there’s an immediacy in a short story that isn’t always present in a novel — but I know I need to re-craft the last few paragraphs in each of them.

 That might mean reworking the bulk of one or more of the stories.  Maybe that’s why some of the short fiction in this particular collection feel unfinished.  I confess I’m projecting here, especially because almost all of the writers are well-respected and should have felt up to the task, but perhaps these authors didn’t want to take the time to craft a new or different story that would fit their printed ending, to make a long story satisfactorily short.  At least that’s the way they read.

Disappointed though I am, I have learned — again — what not to do, what works and what doesn’t and why.  And this collection has inspired me to look up those old stories of mine, most of which have languished for years, and try again.


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