The Art of the Short Short Short Story06:09
I know it’s unseemly to boast, WEbookers, so I hope you’ll forgive me: I bought a new iPod last month, and I’m awfully proud of myself. It’s not so much the iPod itself that’s got me swaggering, but my reason for buying it – I filled up my old 30 GB standby, all the way to the brim. That’s, like, 340 million days of music without hearing the same song twice. (Exaggeration, the younger half-cousin of boastfulness, is another of my numerous weaknesses, at least when it comes to my music collection.) So I went to the Apple store and upgraded to some completely unnecessary amount of memory, and ever since then I’ve been making myself giddy just looking at the little blue bar when I sync up with my laptop. Basically, I could listen to a constant stream of new music for the rest of my life. And I intend to live for a really, really long time.
Right about now, you’re probably wondering: Did Melissa lose a bet with Steve Jobs or something? The answer is, I did not. I’m using my iPod as an entry point – a metaphor of sorts – to talk about how I write short stories.
Actually, to say I write “short” stories at all is a bit misleading. On my best days, I like to think of myself as Alice Munro’s lesser known American step-niece. My stories are rarely short. I write long stories – really long stories. Like, the kind of story that starts when my main character’s great-great-great-great-grandfather learns to walk upright, and ends when her great-great-great-great granddaughter dies of old age, after establishing the first human colony in the Andromeda Nebula. I’m addicted to length, to digression, to back-story, to subplot, to complexity. (If you're still reading this blog entry, you know exactly what I mean.) I write 150 GB stories.
A lot of this comes down to a simple inability to commit – to one plot thread, one mood, one point of view, one arc. I can’t seem to settle down with just one playlist, if you will. Sometimes when I’m riding the subway I see a hip señorita with an iPod nano clipped to her collar, and I think: Wow. There is someone who knows what she likes, someone who leaves the house with a sense of purpose, armed with exactly the songs she wants to hear, while I’m walking around weighed down by five Tom Waits albums just in case I suddenly feel the need for some morose faux-vintage pre-rock.
Likewise, I have a certain amount of awe and admiration for folks who have mastered the art of the truly short story. To commit to just one beginning, middle, and end, and to write it with purpose and economy – without doubling back on yourself and introducing a whole new doomed love affair on page forty-five – is indeed a skill worth having. Do this in eight simple, elegant pages, and I applaud you. Do it in two paragraphs, and I worship at your feet.
And that, my friends, is exactly what’s going on over in WEbook’s Nano Stories project. True to its name, Nano Stories celebrates the art of the extremely brief. The 4 GB answer to my 150 GB conundrum, Nano Stories is a collection of very short stories – some fact, some fiction. As of today, there are 49 submissions. You can read, give feedback, and write your own – and, you can join in a forum discussion to talk about how (and why!) to write a short short story. What gives a short short story its charm? Do you have a favorite bit of flash fiction, short non-fiction, or prose poetry? (Personally, I’m fond of “In the Kitchen,” remarkable for having a beginning, middle, and end – complete with a surprise twist – in only 300 words.)
Take a moment to check out Nano Stories, and try your hand at writing a story in 5 to 500 words. When you’re done, drop by and let me know how it went. Was your experiment in brevity easier or more difficult than you imagined? Are you happy with the results? Will you be trading your bulky video iPod in for a nano? Leave a comment in this blog, and I’ll be sure to read your Nano Story. (Worshipping at your feet not guaranteed.)