Posts in "short story" tag

How to Write a Short Story: The Complete Guide in 9 Steps

How to write a short storyNovels are difficult to write because of size, but short stories are difficult because they require perfection.

Any tiny little mistake in a short story becomes magnified into gigantic proportions.

If a minor character fails to come alive in a novel, you can forgive the error because there is so many other things to enjoy, but if a minor character falls flat in a short story, a reader will become annoyed and a literary magazine editor will throw it away.

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“Uneven” Short Story Collections

Uneven Short Story Collections  One of the most common critiques I hear for short story collections is that they're "uneven." I don't hear it very often for novels, and only occasionally as a critique of an author's oeuvre.

A few brief samples:

  • Publisher's Weekly called David Foster Wallace's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" uneven.
  • Seattle Times called Evan S. Connell's "Lost In Uttar Pradesh" uneven.
  • Martin Amis's "Heavy Water and Other Stories" called uneven.
  • In the LA Times, John Freeman called John Updike's "My Father's Tears" an uneven collection.

It's not exaggerating to call it the most frequent criticism leveled at short story collections. But I wonder whether this critique is effective or informative. 

I think the "uneven" critique is particularly prejudiced against short story collections that embrace a wide variety of forms, such as pairing postmodern meta-fiction along with Carver-type realism and throwing in some genre-inspired work. 

Almost inevitably, the reviewers tastes will lean towards one style or another, and they'll laud half the collection and slam the other half. So the critical matrix of short story reviewers (where "uneven" or "even" is used to judge collections) encourages a form-based, limited type of "unity" to collections, and discourage a thematic or innovative type of unity.

"Uneven" also says more about a reviewer's taste than about the content itself. I know this is tricky waters — how would one separate the reviewer's taste from their evaluation of content? — but I feel as if the word uneven is shorthand for "I liked some stories and I didn't like others," which doesn't tell me much about whether I would like the same stories or dislike the ones disliked.

Also, saying that some stories are liked and others disliked is a bit of a cop-out, review-wise. You could direct this criticism at virtually all collections — aren't collections, by their nature, created so some stories stand out of the pack, and seem better than others?

Uneven also means the reviewers are judging the collection as a mosaic of pieces, rather than as a unified whole. For some collections, this is the appropriate approach, but for others, it might be better to judge it as a cohesive beast, the same way one might read and review a novel. A good collection accomplishes a certain goal, and the reviewer should pay attention to the degree to which that goal is attained, talking about the collection as a single entity.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes

Nocturnes

First: Who decided to give a melancholy book called "Nocturnes" a bright white cover?

Check out the British cover — much more evocative.

But aside from quibbles over cover art, I enjoyed Ishiguro's latest very much. Slow, stately prose reminiscent of Jhumpa Lahiri, and highly readable.

Also, "Nocturnes" holds together remarkably well. In fact, almost too well. This might be the only collection I've ever read that seemed too tightly themed. Every story hit upon the exact same themes, to the point where new plots disappointed me because of their familiarity. It's like reading your favorite author's fourth or fifth book and feeling like they are just repeating themselves.

Almost without fail, each story includes:

  • Musician protagonists.
  • Disintegrating Marriages/relationships with crabby wives
  • A single man intervenes/comes between the couple
  • Ambition to gain/re-gain career heights

Still, taken by themselves, these are remarkable stories, especially "Come Rain or Shine," in which a married man recruits his best friend to temporarily live with his wife so she can see that her husband is not as bad as a failure as others. It has quite a humorous ending, unlike the rest of stories, which seem to be steeped in reflection and melancholy.