…or maybe not. You know me, right? The title was a clever way (if I do say so myself) of warning you as to what I am about to expound on. Short Fiction.
A woman once waved me off, saying, “I never read short stories. I like to get lost in a novel.” So I told her to get lost. Had she given my work a moment’s consideration, she might have reconsidered. Or, I could have sold her a first draft edition of my short stories with a guarantee she’d get lost in them. I often do. But that’s why first drafts are followed by second, third, and as many drafts as necessary to cut and polish a rough stone into a sparkling gem.
Another thing. There are times and places that make it nearly impossible to get lost in a novel. The bathroom, for instance. Enough said about that. Offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers—bank and supermarket lines all are examples of great short story reading areas. You can’t get lost in the novel because you’re always wondering if you’re going to be called next and if you’ll have enough time to get your stuff together without looking like a klutz. I’ve tried that. I fumble my book or glasses or pens or everything, and end up (literally) picking them off the floor. Later, under no pressure, I reread the chapter. Carrying a short story anthology with you is more efficient, beneficial and potentially less embarrassing. Sure, carrying a Kindle is cool, but real readers know that an old-fashioned book won’t run out of battery power at the height of passion, leaving you—uh—let down.
Short Fiction is fun. It’s sort of like religion. Every time you turn around, there’s a new one. Or a freakier, funnier, or more intriguing spinoff than the last. For example, you can neither pin down the exact nature and number of angels, nor get a solid word count for what a short story is. The genre’s arguably-accepted word count ranges from 1,000 to 20,000. Always check the guidelines for the contest or periodical you intend to enter or query. Their number of angels on the head of a pin may differ from yours.
Fewer than 1,000 words is called short short story or flash fiction. “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” created a wrenching story image attributed to Ernest Hemingway. However, in 1921, a columnist wrote that a classified ad, “Baby Carriage for sale, never used,” exemplified the plot of a story, and his example, it is believed, may have given rise to the Hemingway tale.
Sometimes the challenge comes in a number of sentences or lines. Here’s an old five-sentence story I entered in an online challenge:
(Five Sentence Fiction) Virginia Nygard 6/23/15
I sit in the dust outside Mabel’s Beauty Parlor while Mama sits inside getting a Marcel wave.
She come out so beautiful I bet the stars will hide in shame tonight…just like me.
Picking her way ‘cross the wooden sidewalk, she pats my head, kisses my cheek and then sashays to the shiny Ford Model A, just panting at the curb for her.
Mr. James Windsor Whitehorn don’t never come ‘cross the tracks unless he come to pick up Mama for doing the town like he say.
I know what you be doing, my eyes say whilst I wave them away into the night.
So, writers, stretch your mental muscle and play with various kinds of short fiction while you’re working on The Great American Novel. It could be your bread-and-butter while you’re waiting for the Great Ka-ching!
And you out there afflicted with Short-Attention Span Syndrome, Short Fiction might be the short fix you’re seeking!
How long did it take you to translate to Dialog on Dialogue on Dialect? Maybe mere seconds. Congratulations. Now try reading that on 350=400 pages! That quirky, tongue-twisting title is illustrative of the discombobulation created when today’s amateur writers attempt to convey dialect in dialogue.
In the 19th century, dialogue with misspellings, dropped letters, and apostrophes attempted to reflect the class, race, social group or area from which a character originated. Mark Twain immediately comes to (I dare say) everyone’s minds with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, as does Harriet Beecher Stowe for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Gradually, such laborious effort to convey speech patterns fell out of fashion. Was it simply a sense of political correctness that grew on people, or was there more behind the demise of the convention?
Consider other changes in society since those times: from the electric light bulb, movies, sound recordings, the airplane, telephone, and automobiles – to television, space travel, high speed railways, CDs, DVRs, Netflix and others streaming more video entertainment into your home than you have life left to view it. Should I mention I-phones? They’re probably being upgraded or rendered obsolete as I write.
Write? Right! And you’re writing for modern readers of e-books who tote Nooks and Kindles – Oops! – This just in: you can now get books on your tablet and I-phone. Today’s readers who ‘tweet’ in 140 characters or fewer have little patience or interest in decoding dialectal writing.
Apostrophes and phonetic spelling distract the reader from the continuity of the character’s thoughts. In other words, if the reader must parse your words and phrases lie Bob Cratchit scratching letters at his cold clerk’s desk, your book will be chucked in the fireplace to warm the reader as he selects an easier, faster, more fulfilling read.
As with any ‘new rule,’ there are always ‘old exceptions.’
More on that next time!