WRITING THE BETTER SHORT STORY
ONE THING which surprised me after we released to the world the first “3-D” multiple viewpoint short story is how not-obvious the technique appears to people. A tribute to how well the tale is put together to maintain momentum and flow, despite there being 82 individual mini-chapters, with continual switching of point-of-view– what had been told to me by esteemed literary writers should never be done by the serious writer.
(When an expert tells you something is impossible, or shouldn’t be done, that’s exactly what you want to work on accomplishing.)
MOST story writers maintain a single viewpoint throughout, whether that of one character, one consciousness, or for the more ambitious, the omniscient narrator, who in a short story still tends to have a narrow focus. Many use first person, which strongly emphasizes the single viewpoint.
A similar narrowing effect is created when writers eliminate quote marks normally used to distinguish when characters are speaking. (See Sally Rooney.) This strengthens the solipsism of the work. Many writers today, focused more on themselves than the reader’s experience, are solipsistic.
The new 3–D fiction writing technique destroys all of this to bring in a multiplicity of viewpoints. Shifting angles, so that characters, events, and the world are viewed multidimensionally. The technique gives a more real depiction of the world, but also makes for a faster-paced story. “Vodka Friday Night” compresses enough plot and number of characters for a short novel into a 7,000-word short story. The overall effect of the piece becomes more concentrated. Intense. Dynamic.
HOW IT WORKS
A few simple tricks are utilized to do this. One is dividing the story into chapters, making sure each one is extremely brief. Separating them in some way, whether by asterisks, titles, or chapter numbers. F. Scott Fitzgerald did this in his long 1920 story “May Day.” Jay McInerney did something like this as well in his 1998 novella, Model Behavior. (I’m sure other authors have done so also.)
How brief of chapters?
I settled on a 240-word limit. Fitzgerald’s “May Day” chapters are way longer– except for the concise conclusion, which comes in at 238 words.
I came to the limit though by having the McInerney book open before me, on a particularly A.D.D.-tired eyes day, and choosing which chapters held my interest at a glance, and which didn’t. The ones at 240 words or less always came out right.
If you notice in the “Vodka” story, I also play with time in it, using a flashback or two, or not putting a few sections in strict chronological order. The idea being that we don’t experience the world in a straight line. Interspersed with the moment may be memories of past happenings, or images of future dreams.
There’s a lot more which can be done in that regard. The idea is to get the short story out of the narrow corridor it’s been trapped in, by playing with both time and space. (Ideally, expanding the number of views, characters, directions, broadens the work.)
The result is a faster-paced yet more involved story. The reader enters a new world– of hyper-experience.
I plan on using other tricks in future prototypes. My co-editor Kathleen Marie Crane plans to do so as well. (Her first foray into the idea was when she took the title story from her short story collection, “Aloha from Detroit,” and rewrote the same events from the perspective of another character– which we ran at New Pop Lit as “Aloha from Detroit Revisited.” Reading both stories one after another adds roundedness; depth.)
THERE REMAIN many, many aspects of the short story form which can be played with. It’s time writers began playing with them.
-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News