"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Short Story

Every now and then I get an idea for a great story, but unfortunately, not often enough to make a career of writing - infrequently enough, in fact, that my writing skills dull considerably between attempts and I find myself trying to cobble words together in some semblance of style. Recently, I had what I thought was the kernel of a terrific story. I outlined it and wrote a rough draft and I felt I was on the road to something people might actually enjoy reading. The story was fine, but it seemed sketchy and I needed to fill it up with details.

I needed some inspiration, so I went to read some of my favorites again. I considered reading stories by those known primarily for one story: Charlotte Perkins' "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, for example, but I instead went back to those whose style I always admire. I read Edgar Alan Poe's stories when I had barely learned to read and the supernatural style has always been my favorite, so I went back to Poe and to Jorge Luis Borges and Bruno Schulz (whose "Street of Crocodiles" should be better known). What I really needed, though, was not to be found in them and I went on to Anton Chekhov, who I think was the best short story writer ever.

I've read 200 of Chekhov's stories, but there's always another somewhere that I've missed, so I tracked down one I didn't recall having read in an anthology of Russian literature. There were all the usual culprits in there, plus a few with whom I was not familiar. "The Gentleman from San Francisco" by Ivan Bunin was an unexpected delight, so I searched for other stories he'd written. They were harder to find than one would expect, as Bunin was a Nobel Prize winner, but I found a recent translation of all his stories. I have found a new favorite author! I rapidly poured through all of his stories until I found "Cold Fall."

It was my story. My story was published in Russia in 1944. What's worse, Bunin wrote it better than I ever could have written it.

Then I thought: this true story of finding my own story already written would in itself make a good story. Of course, then it would be derivative of Borges' "The Man Who Wrote Don Quixote."

Thank goodness the standards of publishing on a blog aren't very stringent!


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Wow! Talk about a blog post that's so involuted it basically collapses in on itself and forms a semiotic black hole from which no words - not even the words "speed of light" - can escape! (Because I was ... um ... just talking about such a thing with my colleagues here at work. What a coinky-dink!) I debated whether or not to venture past this post's event horizon (by leaving a comment), because I didn't want it to eat all of my words, too; but then I realized that my words are faster than the speed of light but even though they are very fast, they look ridiculously gay when they run because they wear those ladies' long-sleeved gloves that Dr. Nic made so fashionable.

In the end, it all comes back to Dr. Nic, doesn't it, SteveQ? Why don't you write a story about him? He's in the public domain. And he's perfect for a short story because he's very, very, very, very tiny.

Bill S said...

Ever read Kurt Vonnegut?

SteveQ said...

Bill, Kurt Vonnegut's read some of my work! I met him when he was teaching in Indiana.

Bill S said...

He was a great author. I read a number of his novels when I was younger. I actually discovered him by accident. I was a bored teen digging through a box of garage sale books and thought Breakfast of Champions was a book about sports. I soon realized I was mistaken but couldn't put it down. Great writer.