A very short story about short stories

26th March 2015

There was once a writer who really knew how to write a story. She had won prizes for the way she wrapped her words up in just a few pages and made the whole thing shine.

But she didn’t think she’d rest until her stories had lined up neatly and taken on the guise of chapters, with one at the front, one bringing up the rear, and the rest obediently ranged between the two. And so she hammered away at her words and came up with new ones; she introduced her characters to each other, gave them whole lives beyond the pages they’d inhabited so far and stretched them until they cracked; she looked for a way of making her themes shout louder than her words. And she went in search of a grand and fitting title too, thinking that this was just one more piece in the important work of writing a novel.

But – and here comes the end of my very short story – the words on the page were just too slippery, the demands of the novel were just too unbending, and the great sweep of narrative never came. So after turning her words over and over in her own mind (and in the minds of others), she declared at last that she would never be a novelist. And her short stories were allowed to breathe once more.


PS  Hurrah for Lydia Davis (who shows that one sentence – or none – can be a story); hurrah for Colin Barrett who drops us, with abandon, into small-town Ireland and out again; and hurrah for the likes of Alison MacLeod and Ali Smith who, whatever else they’ve been doing, have always championed the possibilities of brevity.