Welcome to the Bite Size Edition of the Editor Roundtable Podcast. Here on the Roundtable we’re dedicated to helping you become a better writer, following the Story Grid method developed by Shawn Coyne. In these episodes we bring you some shorter solo articles and interviews on topics that interest us as writers.
In this episode, Valerie Francis brings you a conversation with Shawn Coyne about short stories.
In season six of the roundtable podcast we started to analyze short stories and, as you may have noticed, I struggled with many of them. I was able to see the fine line writing, the metaphors, the images and so on, but what I couldn’t see was the story. The pieces felt more like a moment in time than a story.
Of course in Alice Munro’s incredible story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” I saw it all. It has all the artistry of the other works we looked at, but underneath it all, was a solid story structure.
This sent me on a hunt to find out if there was another kind of writing that I hadn’t heard of. In one episode I mentioned vignettes, and while what we were studying certainly weren’t vignettes, they had that flavour.
So after months of checking writing reference books and scouring Google, I had to call in the big guns. I had to call Shawn to find out what it was that I was missing. What was it about short stories, that I wasn’t getting? Why was it that I could see the beautiful language but not the story?
My key takeaway from this discussion with Shawn is that, as artists, we’ve got to decide what kind of short story we want to write. Are we focused on lyrical writing slice of life type of story, the plot-driven but weaker line-by-line type of story, or do we want to combine the two and write a story that is both beautiful artistically and structurally solid?
This is art so there is no one right way to write a short story. It’s a matter of artistic preference.
Alice Munro, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013 for her short stories, is in the third group—she combines a mastery of storytelling with a mastery of language. That’s the group I’m striving to be in as well.
Shawn and I had to end our call quickly because we both had to get to the Story Grid Guild sprint session, but he did send me a couple of recommendations to get me started on my study of short stories. Here they are, along with the others he referenced during our call:
- O’Henry’s short stories
- Houghton Mifflin Best Short Stories Collections
- Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories
- “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
- Ellery Queen’s short stories
- Alfred Hitchcock’s short stories
- “A Small Good Thing” by Raymond Carver
- “Farewell by Brother” by John Cheever
- Alice Munro, collected works
- “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing” Melissa Bank
Join the Roundtable Editors next week for another episode in which we’ll all deepen our knowledge of story and level up our craft.
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