NVDT #52 – The Story Knows How Long It Is

The graphic is from one of JMW Turner’s sketchbooks. It could become eight feet tall and 15 feet wide hanging on the wall in the Tate, or stay small. Still a great story.

Prompt – “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.” Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

I believe the works, the stories, find us. They’re out there, floating around in the cosmic radio waves, waiting for one of us to be receptive instead of all “writerly” or “authorial” and there we are. The story sets its own boundaries for disposition as regards length, tone, setting.

Now, having said that, half or more of my shorts are reworked chapters or scenes plucked from longer works. I’ll have need for a short story submission, and “Oh, look. This’ll work.” You could do that ‘excise a short story from a novel’ with any number of novel artists. Those same artists have short story collections full of things that became novels (or didn’t) much the same as an artist’s sketchbook has impressions that may or may not become paintings. Sometimes, as in the case of Turner, the sketchbooks are works of art in themselves.

A different scenario is when a story will prompt with a line from a dead friend or an experience remembered that, when I sit down with it, will unravel into short form. Maybe. In a recent case, several of an old friend’s stories were the foundation for a caper novel. See, there I am again. The story knows best.

Lifted examples – Gator Bait, Octopus

Came this way examples – Like a Violinist, Chesterfield’s Woman (a personal favorite)

Genre is an activity and topic I shy away from altogether. I don’t think about any of that. I am not a formulaic or spreadsheet writer. I write stream of consciousness. Sort of. An editor once accused me of writing “these slice-of-life things”. It came off like I was an idiot for not writing heroic journey or procedurals or a twist murder walkaway or baking cookies with momma or escaping the trailer park or my alcoholic parents argued all the time memoirs. I was proud of the “slice” tag. Because, even if I’m no genius, that puts me in damn good company.

Point – As the quote for this prompt suggests, let the story find you. Write whatever it turns out to be. What did Hemingway say, paraphrased? Write one true sentence and the rest will follow. Where that sentence comes from is, if we get out of our own way, always a gift that deserves whatever it wants from us, be that 1 page or 3 pages or 300. Or 3 of that 300 that needs some air.

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The co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey!

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Phil Huston


16 thoughts on “NVDT #52 – The Story Knows How Long It Is”

  1. Gimme a slice o’ dat ol’ life!
    Don’t get me wrong, I love a mystery or a sci-fi adventure, but the slice of life stories usually captivate me and stay with me longer.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I know, right. Like the fancy names for coasters and napkins and potty paper and those lace thingies your aunt had on every table in her house, under the “Gay Nineties” and Norman Rockwell-ish barefoot children fishing ceramics. I rambled there, huh? I reblogged this once several years ago as one of my faves for no other reason than it’s sitting in a chair next to this person storytelling. You can hear this one going down. https://philh52.wordpress.com/2018/05/24/random-nvdt-vignettes/

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I love slice of life stories! And yes, i agree. The stories have “minds” of their own and find us.

    I write what i want, and i never send it because it doesn’t fit anywhere. I have a plan in my head for what i’m doing now, but already i know it will become something else – whatever it wants. My plan will tell me to shove it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Actually several of yours have come off as slices sans the backstory. You drop good backstory after the fact, the only thing that gets in your way is ‘splaining, which in your case is more like reading your notebook margins. I recall the “what restaurant is this bit” as being exceptionally reader seductive. As in, what the hell? I need to turn the page. Keep that up and let character discovery work it’s way through. Just the note or jewel drop in the plant or whatever time shift was a great short. Like a perfect first chapter. My.02.
      Plans are made to be broken. The first person thing I was doing as an exercise went ka-blooey right off the bat. Like the story said, “Oh you want to rob a bank in the middle of nowhere? You don’t have a clue, buddy. Get outta the way.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Will-o-the-wind (or wire, as it were), sounds good. But if you actually have a target: FlashFic 500 words or less, it’s counter intuitive to wander into a story, 412.7Mhz tuned, and let it take you where it will… Because it sure won’t be a FlashFic of <=500. At least not one that leverages the format.
    It's damn hard, I've found, to write super-dense story fit for a tight format. Oh, sure, the same technique, you'll say, should be use throughout one's writing. But that's not true. If you have the luxury of endless white, you'll use it. Entertainingly so, one would hope. But use it nonetheless.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Those are out there. I hit a specific target of 750, on purpose, and had no idea how when I started. Artificial boundaries produce more artificial works though, because people get involved in trying. If it works and you can whack it to line up, cool. If the texture requires it to wander, let it. Hemingway just cut every ounce of crap. I tried that with Octopus! but it lost its flavor. I mean if I could write like David Foster Wallace or Alice Walker, Hemingway, Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, Updike, Chopin, hell I’d take their 250 to 2k worders however they came. I mean this Hiaasen book is really long, with lots of characters to keep track of but somehow it works. Believe me, it isn’t first person though. 45 to 65k for an adventure/syfy/et al pulp, yeah, that’s targetable. 100 to 500 flash fic? Takes most people that log to describe a kitchen, much less tella story!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Definitely the story takes control of me! LOL! I’ve been to the Tate. I have to admit that I don’t always get modern art, but I definitely like the JMW Turner graphic above. Not that he is a modern artist. Happy writing in August, Phil!

    Liked by 1 person

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