Reflections on the short story on World Book Day 2013.

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I have an addiction which I have already owned up to in public: I am addicted to quotations, to the bon mot. I love reading what experts have written about form, style, narrative, content… I collect ‘sayings’, advice to writers, and reflections on a form.

My previous series 150 ‘rules’ about writing fiction was very popular, and extended from its original ‘100 rules…’ When I reached number 149, I decided enough was enough, I couldn’t extend it again, but have had such a strong response from readers when I posted the last entry, I decided to continue, but in a more focused form, hence Reflections on the short story...

Although I’m primarily a playwright, I also write in different forms and for different media (radio drama, short film). I’ve contributed to various anthologies  (The Phoenix book of Irish short stories, and by Welsh independent publishers Honno and Parthian). I haven’t written short fiction for some time, but I read collections and am constantly fed by this most robust yet delicate of forms.

Short stories seem to be going through something of a renaissance. More collections have been published recently than in previous years – and the success of competitions such as The Sunday Times/EFG Private bank short story award (first prize £30,000) suggests that the often proclaimed death of the short story has been somewhat premature.

As Neil Gaiman put it: ‘Like some kind of particularly tenacious vampire, the short story refuses to die, and seems at this point in time to be a wonderful length for our generation.’

So in the spirit of this and World Book Day, here are some quotations on the short story from Raymond Chandler to Haruki Murakami, from Alice Munro to Eudora Welty, and hope you enjoy;

“My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…” Haruki Murakami

“The particular problem of the short story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible…The type of mind that can understand [the short story] is the kind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.” Flannery O’Connor

“…writing stories was always a bit like falling in love with a stranger and running off to Marrakech for a long weekend. It didn’t have to be successful to be thrilling.”  Ann Patchett

“The novel…creates a bemusing effect. The short story, on the other hand wakes the reader up. Not only that, it answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience.”  V.S.Pritchett

“A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry… A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.”
William Faulkner

“It’s possible in a…short story to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things–a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring–with immense, even startling power.” Raymond Carver

 “I believe that the short story is as different a form from the novel as poetry is, and the best stories seem to me to be perhaps closer in spirit to  poetry than to novels.”  Tobias Wolff

“The first thing we notice about our story is that we can’t really see the solid outlines of it–it seems bathed in something of its own. It is wrapped in an atmosphere. This is what makes it shine, perhaps, as well as what initially obscures its plain, real shape.
” Eudora Welty

“Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about.
”  Alice Munro

“…The literature of individuals is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story…. Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: ‘Who am I?'”  Isak Dinesen

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