April 14, 2010

AWP, Part 3, Going Long: The Long Short Story

Now I thought I’d talk about the panels I attended. I wasn’t able to attend nearly as many as I wanted to. I missed all of the panels on writing the West, for instance, which I would’ve loved to have seen.

The first panel I attended was Going Long: The Long Short Story, with Jill Meyers, Josh Weil, Karen Brown, and one other women ~ someone couldn’t make it and was replaced by a very knowledgeable veteran writer with dark hair. I came in late so ~ I’m sorry ~ I didn’t catch her name, and I really wanted to. If you know, please email or comment! I want to get her craft book on time in fiction.

[My friend Rashena tells me she's Joan Silber, and her book is The Art of Time in Fiction, among others.]

Jill was the moderator and is the editor of American Short Fiction. She also puts on a great online workshop. Josh is the author of The New Valley, which won the 2010 Sue Kaufman Prize for the American Academy of Arts. The New Valley is three linked novellas set in hardscrabble West Virginia. Karen is the author of Pins and Needles, a short story collection.

I believe that the panel defined the long short story as about 10,000 to 25,000 words ~ longer than a short story (about 5,000 words) but shorter than a novella (say 30,000 to 50,000 words). The panelists said that people sometimes just have a form that they naturally write in, and this form was theirs.

The panelists talked about how a writer approaches the long short story. Most of them said that it was their natural form, that they felt that the regular short story was too short and this form gave them room to get to know the characters and to let the plot develop. Josh said, “I don’t write from something, I write toward something.” By that he meant that a lot of people start with a scene or character in mind and then write forward. He doesn’t. Instead, he knows where he wants to get and writes toward that.

All the panelists said that they love this form because it allows them to get to know the characters and spend time with them. The dark-haired woman said that the longer short story “has its own economies.” I love that. It has its own pace and progression. It can encompass long stretches of time. She had always been taught that a story was just one scene, and the long short story form allowed her to stretch out without the pressure and expectation of the novel. She mentioned Alice Munro as a master of handling time, of jumping back and forth and making it seem effortless. She added that the masters of the story have the ability to write summary as if it were scene.

They talked about letting yourself go vs. indulging yourself. Karen said that what she liked about the longer short story is that you can let yourself go and meander and play. It gives you more room. Josh talked about flabby writing and that you never want your prose to be self-indulgent. The panelists talked about how they don’t go through “drafts” but instead edit as they write. In other words, they don’t write a draft, then come back and edit, and then maybe write, and then come back and edit. They’re doing both in one sitting, though everyone has his or her own process. The dark-haired woman said that you don’t want to be making up things just to take up space ~ what she called “sterile invention,” an apt phrase, I think.

Related to that, someone talked about, in workshops, how people say that a story is economical and how that is a compliment. The panelists answered that there should be a balance. Just as you shouldn’t be self-indulgent, you shouldn’t pare away the richness of story and overwork it. Josh said that he always writes long on the first draft but that that draft, he feels, is sort of sacred. It has an energy that he won’t get through revision. He wouldn’t want to cut into it so deeply that he removes a vital part of it. The dark-haired woman said that she finds workshops, because of this, a little problematic. She said that “plot is the vehicle of meaning, and you should include what you need to carry an effect.”

Someone asked whether the long short story should strive for what Poe called “the single effect,” that everything in the story should be working toward one effect. In response, the dark-haired woman talked about Alice Munro’s story “The Albanian Virgin,” which intertwines the stories of two women, a modern woman and a woman who chooses to live as a man and a sheepherder, which a real historical phenomenon in Albania. (I haven’t actually read this story.) She talked about how Munro often sets two stories against each other and how they light one another up. At the beginning, you may not even know how they are related. The panelists agreed that layering of two stories is often effective, though one story often dominates. The panelists talked about the long short story letting them focus on one aspect of character more fully than in the short story but more tightly than the novella.

The panelists talked about letting a story be what it is, not imposing a form upon it. Josh said that there’s no doubt that it’s hard to get the form published, but definitely worth it. The more you can shake up readers expectations, the better. In the regular short form, people get to expect a certain emotional tenor by a certain point in the story, a certain type of development and pace, and the more you can shake this up, the better. There shouldn’t be just one form and pace for stories.

When asked about models for the long short story, the panelists mentioned Alice Munro, Grace Paley, William Trevor, Flannery O’Connor, Paul Yoon, Bret Anthony Johnston, Annie Proulx, and playwrights like Sam Shepard and Harold Pinter.

When asked about markets for the longer short story, the panelists mentioned American Short Fiction, New England Review, Georgia Review, Ploughshares, Electric Literature, One Story, Southern Review, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Narrative, Northwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Atlantic Monthly e-reader.

Their overarching advice was to just let yourself write. The story will find its form, and you have to generate the material first before you know what will fit and what is extra.

What I’m Reading Today: We have guests, including a darling week-old boy named Henry, so I haven’t been reading much.

4 comments:

The surreal life: The shortest-ever recap of AWP – American Short Fiction blog said...

[...] and readers, new and returning, who attended our panel on the Long Short Story (blogged here and here), who shared a drink with us at Jonesy’s EatBar during our happy hour, and who [...]

Tamara said...

Thanks, American Short Fiction!

Annie Proulx Short Stories said...

[...] blog » blog archive » annie proulx and the wyoming ... Annie proulx – “brokeback mountain” Awp, part 3, going long: the long short story « tamara linse Close range: wyoming stories by annie proulx « [...]

Short Stories Summary said...

[...] Related weblogs Grading a short story « edaxicon Review: beatrice & virgil « gleeful reader Awp, part 3, going long: the long short story « tamara linse Summary box: treasurys jump as greece's debt is downgraded to junk ... Feng shui ying yang, | [...]