And me. Two whole published short stories under my belt. It will be, as they say, my first rodeo.
We’ll be discussing the stories we wrote for the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, the short story in general, and how we use the holidays in our writing. I think I'll be fine talking about my own story and how Halloween inspired it. Check.
But I started having nightmares, er, wondering what would I say if someone asked me What is a short story? In all the books on writing that I have read, debate continues about what exactly constitutes a short story, or any story really. The conventional wisdom is that you have a story when a character undergoes a change. I thought this was dyed in the wool, rock bottom, boilerplate wisdom. In a story, a character must change.
Aristotle considered three parts to a story: Reversal, suffering, and recognition. Recognition is what we would consider “epiphany” or a culmination, when a character reaches a state of enlightenment about his life and gains some new self-knowledge. A change.
Using Aristotle’s definitions, my story “Disco Donna”, was not a story, short or long. There was definitely no epiphany, just the resolution of a long-ago crime by three teenage girls applying their own understanding of the Teen Girl’s psyche.
Without this element, had I written a short story at all? Was I a fake? I decided to do some research and turned to the thickest, heaviest book on writing I could find.
In The Making of a Story, Alice LaPlante quotes the novelist John L’Heureux in his disagreement with this writing “rule.” He doesn’t believe that all stories must follow the something’s-gotta-change model. Instead, he says, writers must “Capture a moment after which nothing can ever be the same again.”
Now here was a revelation! “This definition” La Plante writes, “drives home the fact that change is not necessary. Change can be offered to a character – and declined. The “crisis” of a piece can be of negative, rather than positive action: something not done, a sin not committed, an act of grace not performed. But a moment of significance has passed, and things cannot be the same again.”
Ah ha! After my detectives endure and triumph through a dangerous “moment of significance,” things for them will not be the same again. One could argue that this is a kind of change – they’re survivors – but L’Heureux broadened my understanding of what makes a story and opened new possibilities for me.
Maybe I’ll have something to say on the panel, after all.
Any advice for a first time panelist?