Wednesday, January 6, 2010

5 Things I Loved about Short Circuit

Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story is a unique textbook. Much like the writing it tries to educate the reader about, it is conflicting and sometimes controversial. Each chapter is written by a different award winning short story writer, each with their own opinions about how one might go about writing a good short story. It's fun to see them disagree.
Each chapter ends with a list of short stories the writer of the chapter likes and a few writing exercises.
The editor of the collection is Vanessa Gebbie. Here is Ms Gebbie's bio from the book:

Vanessa Gebbie’s short fiction has won over forty awards, including prizes at Bridport, Fish (twice), Per Contra (USA), the Daily Telegraph and the Willesden Herald, from final judges such as Zadie
Smith, Tracy Chevalier, Michael Collins and Colum McCann. She is a freelance writing teacher working with adult groups, at literary festivals and with school students. Her work with disadvantaged adults led to the publication of two anthologies of their writing: Roofless and Refuge (QueenSpark Publishing 2007). In 2009 she was invited to contribute to A Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (Rose Metal Press USA), a creative writing textbook that received a coveted starred review from Publisher’sWeekly. Many of her prize-winning stories are brought together for the first time in her collection Words from a Glass Bubble (Salt, 2008). A second collection, Ed’sWife and Other Creatures, is forthcoming from
Salt. She is Welsh and lives in East Sussex.
Vanessa will be here at Thoughts from Botswana on the 15th January to talk about the book. The table of contents of this book looks a bit like a Who's Who of short story writing.
But what did I like about this book? Well......
5 Things I loved About Short Circuit
1. I have to admit some of the chapters I found more interesting and helpful than others, but I think that is a bit of the beauty of this book. It is written from the perspective of working, successful writers and as all of us know writers each have their own way to get to the end of that story. Some things work for me, some don't; and some that don't work for me will definitely work for you.
2. The book is comprehensive and to the point. There are chapters about the importance of the right title, how to start the story, how to end it, and all the aspects of what happens in between. There are chapters on where to get ideas and how to cultivate creativity. I see myself referring back to particular chapters over and over again.
3. A few of the writers brought up something that I've gone through but have never been able to verbalise. It happens to me only when writing short stories, not writing novels. Perhaps it is the intensity of short story writing . It is "writing into the void" as Marian Garvey describes it in the book. It is when suddenly a story is on the page and you're not sure if you were consciously part of the process of getting it there. You have to be willing to let that happen, to relinquish control. In her chapter, Alison Macleod advises us to take that risk. "You need to be willing not to know." Short Circuit reminded me that I cannot walk away from short stories (something I'd been considering) I'm addicted to that magic.
4. Something all writers struggle with is their style- what is my style? we ask ourselves. Nuela Ni Conchir's chapter on style was comforting for me regarding this issue. She says, "Your personality oozes into your work without you knowing or being able to stop it. Everything you write is stamped with your innate style." That was a bit of a relief for me. I just want to write and since my writing seems to take on my chaotic, schizophrenic personality I often wonder if I will ever find my unique style. Apparently I already have.
5. Some chapters I felt were such a gift. The interview with Tobias Hill on character, characterisation and dialogue was full of wonderful advice. In the end, short stories are about character and if we don't get it right the story flattens, often morbidly so. He advises (controversially) that short stories need a few cliched characters, that dialogue is not an easy way to avoid showing and ensuring you are telling-some dialogue is showing, and therefore boring, and that physical description of characters is your salt- use it sparingly, but don't leave it out completely, readers need something to grab onto. It was one of my favourite chapters in the book.
Stop by on the 15th to hear more!


Sue Guiney said...

Just finished it and I loved it too. I especially like your no 3. That's me all over.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I will get it and read it.

Tania Hershman said...

Alison M's chapter is excellent, isn't it? So important to talk about risk, and the way she seems to take a risk in the talking about risk is wonderful! Thank goodness I've just found that out with a story that wasnt working - it's because I wasn't taking the risk of writing into the void, I had all sorts of devices in place and thought I knew what the story was about. A relief to get rid of those and find something underneath that is keeping me interested in writing it just to find out what happens.

So glad you found Short Circuit useful, that means a great deal to all of us in the book.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Lauri

what a smashing post! I am really looking forward to my visit, in pixels if not in person...
but I am delighted if the book's opened something up in your writing-psyche. fab!


Maxine said...

I am short storying at the moment, and this is exactly what I need!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Sounds like a good book. I hate it when writers get too carried away with describing every little thing each character is doing, too many flashing eyes and gnashing teeth and all that business.

Lauri said...

I'm actually a bit excited after reading SC. Last year I became very frustrated with short story writing. You stuggle to get it perfect in a very intense way, not like novel writing, at least not for me. Then you send it out and you get a few rejections and eventually it finds an acceptance. Then there is this excitement, especially if it is a very good market. And then it's over and you go back to square 1. Unlike a book which has a bit of staying power and you don't really ever go back to square one. I was frustrated that I seemed to be going no where with my short stories. In anger I decided - no more. I'm sticking to books.

But writing a book is so different. It's like running around in huge field. You can spin and jump and you don't bash your head. It's nice in its own way.

But SC made me remember how much I like a room with walls. I started writing mostly flash which is writing in a closet. As I read the book I was longing to write a short story. So I must really thank you folks (T and V and all of the others) for reminding me that I still need short stories too. :)

Elizabeth- absolutely agree on that. What he was saying in that chapter as you must give the reader something- even a quirk- an itchy nose for example, something for the reader to hold onto. But heavens no don't insult the reader by describing everything.

Anonymous said...

It sounds fantastic. I am going to go and buy it. Well done, Vanessa!

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