Assignment Number 1
I have been reading lots of short stories recently. I have read short stories by Ali Smith and A. L. Kennedy and Lorrie Moore and John McGahern and Amy Bloom and Annie Proulx and Ian McEwan and I am about to read some short stories by Alice Munro.
If you wanted to win a short story competition judged by me you should probably enter it first. It will be called something like ‘Short Story Competition’ and it might have a theme based on one of my latest whims or obsessions. There are the obvious things I like (look at all those pictures on the left hand side), but if you were clever you might write about one of the less obvious things I like.
I like stories that monkey about with narrative voice very much. But not just for the sake of it. The content comes first, and the form should serve the idea. If you do monkey about it should be because the monkeying is meaningful in some way. Otherwise paragraphs and beginning, middle, then end are fine. Though I do like flash-backs. And I like internal dialogue and stream of consciousness type stuff. I like first person best, though I also like third person that feels like it should be first person. Is there a word for that? Subjective? Limited?
I quite like stories with dark themes or bleak subject matter. It’s because I find sad endings or free-floating misery more realistic and I like realism in my stories. I like hearing what people imagine. I like knowing people’s private secrets and seeing their dark nasty places exposed when they are trying to cover them up. But I do like a happy ending every now and again. I’m just quite picky about my happy endings. Happy ended stories I like are usually quirky and imaginary in some way. So I like Room Nineteen (which is Doris Lessing, if I remember right) and People In Hell Just Want A Drink of Water (Annie Proulx) but I also really like May (Ali Smith).
If you enclosed an Essential of Life with your entry, or even some ‘crunk‘ then you would have a much better chance of winning.
If your story was quite short, say less than 5000 words, you would have a better chance of winning. I read short stories in my dinner break and while I can be a little bit late I don’t want to take the piss either.
I would know the winning story when I saw it. It would not remind me of anyone else. It would have a quality about it that I cannot explain but might be called something like ‘song’ or ‘glow’ or ‘spark’. It wouldn’t break any of the laws on my list (scroll down a bit) unless it broke them really well. Then it would probably break most of them in angry or sly ways.
I like stories that you would sound daft trying to explain to someone else. Like this one (read that story before reading the next bit so you will know what I mean. You could also read this one, just so you fully know what I mean.)
I think you can’t do a synopsis for a good story. I think they only exist in one piece, really. And you can’t really talk much about them without being repetitive or breaking them because the story has already explained itself enough.
Good stories make me feel like nodding my head and chuckling or feeling not-alone. Empathising. They are a way for one person to tell someone else something she already knew but didn’t know that she knew, or she knew she knew it but she didn’t know someone else knew it too.
This is very personal to me. I am aware there are lots of famous and respectable good story writers that I have not mentioned. I had a conversation with my friend about a book he liked and I didn’t. I didn’t want to say that I didn’t like it so I said I could tell that the man who wrote it was a good writer. That was the truth. But I still didn’t like it because he wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t expect him and me to know. And my friend said that other stuff didn’t matter and if reading the story didn’t make me feel my feelings then it wasn’t for me to read. Or something like that.
I am glad I can tell when writing is ‘skillful’ or ‘clever’ or not. I learned how to do that. But I always knew what I liked and what I didn’t. I said this to one of my teachers at the end of Uni and he said some people start Uni the other way round and don’t figure out what they like until they’ve been reading a lot, for a long time. I can’t get my head round that.
I’m a bit shy to post this post. It seems a bit naive to me. I like to be straightforward though.
So if you wanted to win my short story competition then you should write a story that I like. But I am not sure I believe in competitions anyway.
Brought to you by the letters Q W E R T and Y at the request of Nik Perring.