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This takes me to a theory I’ve been wrestling with for a while now. The idea of trust that the audience has for the writer. Is it possible the writer submitting this question is facing rejection because he is “unknown”? Were he an established writer familiar to the magazine, is it possible his lack of “story” would be accepted as cutting edge and unique, rather than lacking and wrong?

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While I think it's true that just about any publication would publish just about anything that Lydia Davis writes, I think it's also true that journals get a lot of stories that don't work, for one reason or another, and so are rejected. If a writer receives a message from a journal that their work is being rejected for "lack of story," then I think it's a good idea to either write to that journal's specifications (give your story a "story"), or try another journal. It's actually a super wonderful rejection the writer received. They found the story lovely! An unspecific rejection may mean that your writing is simply not very good. There are many different journals out there. Some are much more open to experimental, unconventional work than others. It seems that this particular journal is looking for stories that read as stories and not prose poems. I hope the questioner tries them again after a rewrite--unless he's completely happy with the piece the way it is, in which case he can try another journal.

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Do you remember when the NYYorker stoy editor would write the encouragement "Send us another" or "Send us more"?

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I got a few of those, back in the 1979s and early eighties Closest I came to publishing there. The last time I tried, I was told my story was "too much like a New Yorker story " 😂

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I'm sorry, Mari. I'm not following you. I think such words of encouragement from the NYer do happen to some writers, no?

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My first rejection note, handwritten, from the editor, came from the Paris Review. It pretty much spoiled me for decades. I think I still might be recovering.

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Sep 8, 2023·edited Sep 9, 2023

Yes, Mari.

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I absolutely agree with your theory. A lot of it is about expectations. We often see what we expect to see.

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... unless something pulls us out of that expectation trance

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Speaking as someone who's been on both sides, I'd argue that this line of thinking unduly discredits editors, who really do want to publish the best they can find. Consider also that more writers are unknown than known and that taste, luck, taste, taste, taste and luck, whether the thing actually fits into the allotted space, the alignment of the stars and all sorts of other stuff plays into the decision to accept or reject. None of it is personal. I've been published, and happily so, but I've been rejected far more often. So what. Doesn't stop me, and, really, that's not finally the issue. Write as best you can; the rest takes care of itself. I've had rejections that amounted to, basically, "what could you possibly have been thinking?", and acceptances that have been immediate with a request for more. Who can figure? Why try? Unknown, known, doesn't matter; just write the best you can.

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That’s a good point. I’m perhaps not giving enough credit to experienced editors that likely know how to discern good writing.

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Roseanne, I am sure you are right. When writing query letters, doing everything I could think of, shy of toadying, to show an agent respect was also when agents started reading my manuscript. I suspect it's a corollary of projection that if we find a way to sincerely project great intellect on an agent or an editor, they will respond in kind.

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Best advice ever! Thank you. Taste, stars and a bit of luck. The magic formula.

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Sara, I agree with your interpretations. Everything is in the eye of the expectation.

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Yeah, this is a pretty viable theory insofar the author and his popularity are quite important to the feeling an audience has upon receiving works of said author.

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I think it also goes the other way, the writer has to trust the audience to go on this journey with them. To trust and hope that they will understand what they are trying to convey. The author shares their "stories" because they hope that there is someone out there that it will resonate with. It's like a symbiotic relationship of sorts.

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This is the never-ending question: what is a story? Or, as the questioner puts it: “When is a story a story?” And I think the questioner may, in fact, know the answer. Because he writes: “I wrote a short piece I really love. It's not exactly "a story.” I’m guessing that what the questioner wrote was something more like a prose poem—he says his piece had detail, movement, and emotion, which all fall within the definition of something poem-like told in the form of a piece of prose. But it doesn’t sound as though his piece has what George is calling “complication.” And it doesn’t sound as though his piece follows the kinds of conventions most of us know of as “story conventions.”

The short pieces George has posted (one by Lydia Davis and the other by Daniil Kharms) also are not stories, per se. And by per se I mean, that although they do “complicate” and even “resonate,” they do not provide the conventions of storytelling as we here in the West define it. So a person can call them whatever they want—stories, vignettes, flash fictions, poems, prose poems, etc. And there are journals who will publish them. Complication plus resonation: many people love these sorts of pieces.

I know I’ve talked about my own history of writing stories before, so please ignore this if you’ve heard it before. In the beginning of learning how to write, I wrote stories that were not stories. Instead, they were my emotions more or less being barfed up on the page. They sounded often like beefed-up journal entries. And many came pretty much directly from my own life. They ended in completely unsatisfactory ways because I did not yet know how to carve stories from real life or how to write a story at all. At a certain point, a friend of mine sent some of my work to a well-known author and asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving me some advice. He did this because my writing was good, but my stories were not. The well-known author very kindly sent me the following advice, not in these words, but hopefully you’ll get the point. He said: A story ends in a win, lose or draw.

After much, much, much work and thousands of words, I finally understood what he meant. You can’t just write description and emotion within some sort of movement (as the questioner says he did, and as all of my early stories did) and expect readers to walk away thinking, “now there’s a story.” You need a character (define as you wish) who goes through something (define as you wish) that escalates, and at the end of the story, that character either wins (can be thought of as “changes”), loses (does not “change”) or draws (they were given an opportunity to “change” and did not take it).

Sometimes when writing, thinking in this way (“win, lose, draw”) can be unhelpful. I find it most helpful to first write something, and then think about the story in story terms later. Do I have a character? Does the character go through something—not just internally but also externally? Does the story escalate to a boiling point? Does the character have to decide what action to take right then? Does the character win? Lose? Draw?

I know many people do not like to think of stories this way as it seems too conventional. But the vast majority of stories we all love have these conventions in place in some fashion—sometimes they are buried in such a way as to not be so obvious; others are very clearly following conventions.

The questioner asks: How much plot is needed? And the answer is: As much as necessary to make your story succeed. In other words, you set up your story in the beginning with some sort of question. Your story succeeds if the plot takes us down a road that lets us see how that question will be answered. Remember that we do want to see it. On the page. We don’t want inferences or cloudiness.

Will I have more to say later? Probably. But I’ll post this for now. Thanks for reading!

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That feedback, Mary, reminds me of something a screenwriting teacher said about my work. I'd written about 10 pages that consisted of... a girl staring out her window lighting candles. It drove my instructor crazy. She said: "Alicia, it's called drama. SOMETHING has to *happen*!!!!" (IMHO, lots was happening. The candles were getting lit. But, alas.) :)

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But with all due respect, candles getting lit is an activity, not an action that would be considered an event (something happens that you can't unhappen, the equivalent of driving through a tollbooth where you can't back up or your tires will be shredded - that's a metaphor for an event) what happens must change the playing field or forward the action or raise the stakes in some way whether by a physical action or dialogue in which someone comes to a decision or makes a vow or a threat... there are many options here, but it causes forward motion. If the candle-lighter takes that candle and torches the curtains, that's an event. Then something has happened, something unerasable.

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Oh, totally agreed! My screenwriting instructor was correct in urging me to switch it up. :)

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Yes. Exaaaaaccctly!

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This comment is pure gold, Emma!

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Lol. I hope people here in Story Club will understand that I'm not advocating for conventional writing. I'm advocating for what you're talking about here--drama. At the same time, everyone should write what they want to write. I'm one of those people who thinks it a good idea to learn the conventions and then break them only when you know you are breaking them. Break them on purpose.

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Agreed! And drama can build in so many ways.

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Absolutely. And stories can find drama in teeny, tiny things.

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I loved that story by Lorrie Moore with all the exclamation points!!!!! As an example of breaking rules.

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didn't she also have a whole page of Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! in one of her stories? I think that was her.

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Now I must find that. Couldn't we all use a Ha! Ha!

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I just looked it up. It's from her story "Real Estate."

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I always found the idea of something happening made me need to think too big, I much prefer the idea that someone has to respond to something, somehow that makes me keep my characters more real. It's my own trick with myself.

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Whatever works! I usually work with the idea that someone (a very human and therefore flawed someone) wants something.

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An editor once told me , as Kurt Vonnegut said, a character must want something, even if it's only a glass of water.

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I always enjoy your clarity on this subject Mary g. This week, I found the following wonderful few lines in the foreword to Susan Sontag's 'Stories' written by the editor Benjamin Taylor. It resonated for me and it allows for all you said here but also something else:

“Sontag regarded essays as arenas for coming to understand what she thought, for making up her mind. Her stories spring, by contrast, from a need to remain in suspense, to hold contradictions, but also to make this perplexity bear fruit.” It struck me as a lovely 'quest' for a story writer and a motivation that focuses on the process towards bearing that fruit, truth I think. But to remain in suspense, to hold contradictions feels delicious to me.

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Yes, yes, yes. I'm all in on suspense. And humans are so full of contradictions--it's sort of the essence of storytelling.

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I love 'to hold contradictions'. Within a successful story there seems to be a balance of delicious contradictions, and the story navigates and acknowledges them but still arrives at a rewarding ending, even amongst all those things in life that pull the other way.

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Looking forward to the discussion about how the Hawkins story ends - win/lose or draw?

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Maybe George could do a post on 'endings'. Though I guess there are all sorts of things to come out of your win/loss/draw scenario. If the underdog wins its one story, if the bully wins its another. For an ending to have meaning we have to have watched the match preceding it. And perhaps that's what we mean by a story - the sequence of events that give meaning to the end.

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Yes! That's it, exactly. As George has written in these threads: "A story is a series of simple, causal beats, one leading naturally to the next. The reader is compelled through the story by this causation. The meaning arises out of the juxtaposition of events." Also, George has done a post on endings before (April 16 post), though there's always more to ponder.

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Thanks Mary. I’ll check back to April.

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Great course in story writing, mary.

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Thanks, Tod. I love thinking about stories and story structure, etc, so this place (Story Club) is just a godsend for me!

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And your presence here is a godsend. :)

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I agree, mary g ...and it rhymes.

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that's so nice. Thank you, Tod!

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Where can we read your stories?

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Why always contain things with definitions?^^ Many times just the verb is more than enough^^

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tell me what you mean here, Graeme. I'm not following you.

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Representational vrs Abstraction^^

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I teach a class in scriptwriting, and at the start of the semester I always quote the Italian title to an American movie. The Italian title was: Qualcosa é Cambiato*. It means simply "Something Has Changed," but it's more fun to say in Italian. Sounds sexier. But that, I tell my students, is the definition of every story: something changes. Things are one way at the start of the story, and they are another way at the end. The change can be subtle, purely psychological, but one way or another, things are not as they were before.

* The American movie was "As Good as it Gets," which is about as generic as you're going to get. As a title, "Qualcosa ´e Cambiato" also says next to nothing. Maybe the phrase has more resonance in Italian. But it provides a good definition of a story.

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Hi Thomas. I think that in a story, there is the possibility of change. But it doesn't always happen--a character can be offered change and decide not to take it.

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Aristotle says stories are about people moving from ignorance to knowledge. They were confused or misguided about something; at the end, they know the truth.

Is that what you mean?

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Let's say a story concerns a married man having an affair with a woman and he falls in love with her. At the end, he can decide: 1. to leave his marriage and find happiness with the new woman (a win, but a hard one). 2. To stay in his marriage and wonder forever if he's missed out on happiness (this is losing, I'd say, albeit he perhaps will find happiness again with his wife--who knows? Or he feels morally superior by staying? Well, i haven't written the story, but there are many ways it could go). Or, 3. To not make any decision at all and allow things to happen to him (wife finds out and leaves; mistress grows tired of waiting, etc.) This is a draw, as he's been offered an opportunity to make a change and doesn't take it. That is more or less what I mean, though apologies for a not very good example. I think the book The Remains of the Day ends in a draw, no? The butler could have made a change but decides not to?

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I like the phrase 'allow things to happen to him' - e.g. suggesting the character takes the passive route, yet at the same time, not passive but as you say a decision - therein lies the power of the complexity I find compelling. Therein lies the kind of story that gets debated in book clubs.

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Yes, Marissa! And so much more interesting than loss / win / draw, no? (see my comment just above).

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Hi, Mary!

The butler was not alone... To me that Remains of the Day ending feels like a loss. Or, to take your example of an affair, just letting things drift until wife or lover (or both!) move on, seems to me to leave the man in a loss situation.

I think I'm saying that framing endings as sporting contests with a loss / win / draw outcome leads to oversimplification.

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oh, i absolutely agree that it's an oversimplification. Everything I've written here about storytelling is an oversimplification. There's really no way to talk about story structure without simplifying. But to my young writer's mind, this kind of oversimplification was very helpful, and so I'm passing it along to others. It's merely a way of pondering how stories work. Regarding my example, letting things drift can certainly be looked upon as a loss. However, the point is that the man remained in place and did not move forward. He made no decision about it. It's a loss for him, yes. But in terms of story structure, my point is that he was offered a chance to change his life and did not take it. I admit it's not a great example.

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Perhaps sometimes the change is in the reader’s perception, not necessarily in the character. I think of Claire Keegan’s “So Late in the Day.”

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I hesitate to comment on this story, knowing that Claire Keegan is in story club and of course any analysis I give could be completely contrary to what she believes. But yes, I agree, in this story a reader learns what is actually going on as the story progresses. I'm not sure that my perception changed--instead, it was an unfolding until I understood the situation. Soon enough, we catch on. And that is a wonderful and interesting way to write a story. But I also think this may be a good example of a character who has been given an opportunity to change, and who does not take it. In that way, the story has the sort of arc we are used to when thinking about stories. There is conflict, there is rising action, and finally, there is a decision to be made--will the main character hear what his fiancée is telling him? Or will he shut down and refuse to hear? Will he remain who he is and not move forward into a new life, one where he understands women in a new way? In the end, he makes his choice--no change for him, though he's been offered one.

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Thanks for the thoughtful response, Mary. My point was more that we sometimes focus so much discussion on what is happening IN the story (often expressed in large part by character arc) that we neglect to consider as thoroughly what happens BETWEEN the story and the reader (this feels relevant to George’s post for today as well regarding choices in structure). This awareness is especially inspired by a Between the Covers podcast I listened to recently in which Rebecca Makkai discusses the implied listener or “ear of the story,” as she terms it. Thomas’s definition of a story as “something changes” got me thinking about how what changes doesn’t necessarily have to happen IN the story for there to still be a change via the telling. For me, the major movement or change in Claire’s gorgeous story is in the shifts and complications of my feelings toward the protagonist as I gradually come to understand his situation and why he’s in it.

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I wonder if its beneficial to think of it as the character's response(s) that is in the focus -that makes story, as opposed to the change (itself) in their surroundings (or whatever), it is their patterning, or the break of a pattern perhaps that bears truth?

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The change in stories refers to a change in the character. The character finds something inside themselves and breaks out of their former mold and into a new place--it's both internal and external.

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If so, 'a story' means (to me) that in all ‘the doing/decisions’ - e.g., the human responses to events and states, the characters ‘do for love (to GIVE as opposed to RECEIVE love)’ (self love or a love for others) - within their capacity - OR suffer the consequences and/or cause suffering, to reveal truth.

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I wonder too, if 'doing to give love' is just another way to say 'kindness'. I can't wait to get into the Hawkins story, because it shows this so well.

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This is a perfect definition.

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I speak no Italian but reading your introduction and Italian title made me think if that film! How coincidental is that?

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It’s time the world looks anew at this form. After all, it’s not flash story. It’s flash fiction. I believe any art is worthwhile if thought so by the artist/writer. Art is rarely appreciated by everyone. But that’s not what’s important. What’s vital is that it was created and sent into the world. We can only hope it will affect its readers, change them in some tiny way because they’ve read it.

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Agree. Children should be taught this at a young age, to create and not worry so much about outcomes. We'd have more readers if we allowed children to have this kind of art class.

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Here Here.

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This got me thinking of Forster’s quote:

The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then queen died of grief is a plot.

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And similar (no idea who said this) - a good story must have at least one of these elements - mystery, religion, royalty, sex. To wit: “My God,” said the queen, “I’m pregnant; I wonder who did it?”

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I could be wrong, but it might be the other way round.

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Maybe I’m being stupid, but shouldn’t that be the other way around? IE, the “…died of grief” version is the story? I’ve always thought of plot as “what happens” and story as “why what happens is significant.”

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i've never understood that statement. Is it because I've never read it when I wasn't hungry?

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I had a very similar experience to the questioner (only the response I received was needlessly caustic, stuffed with assertions and assumptions and, after I'd recovered my shock, I was able to regard it is a work of unwitting comedy.)

It's true, some people have very strong opinions about what makes a story a story.

I think very short pieces that do not seem to follow conventional story telling "rules" are hard to pull off. And yet the reason I tend to write them is because they come much more naturally to me than any other kind of writing. I have struggled openly with this question here in Story Club from the beginning and perhaps made myself an unlikable person because of it.

I do not use the word "struggle" lightly.

I am glad to see this question being addressed.

I think the answer George gives is very spot on. No matter how short the piece something in it has to move and it has to take the reader somewhere. Otherwise you are likely to be accused of things like "withholding information from the reader" and other anger-inducing, noxious moves.

I sometimes think short pieces have more in common with poetry than they do with longer prose pieces. The moves one tries to make when trying to write a poem, including the awareness of heightened imagery, can be useful in a shorter piece.

You can see it in Davis's story that George uses as an example. The arc of an argument that goes on between two people (I think) is boiled down to the essentials in a kind of list. It could potentially be boiled down even further, to just the nouns: "An outburst, a refusal, a silence, a silence, an attempt, a refusal, a cry, a weeping." Is that a story? Maybe, but the locations add an essential visual (imagistic) dimension and the reader's mind kicks in with its own resources of memory and experience. At least I think that's what happens to me when I read it.

In fact I think a lot of us could sit down and write a story about this story, just from what Davis gives us.

Davis focuses on the experience of the argument itself and not whether there is a resolution or not. Which a longer story would start demanding, I think.

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"An outburst, a refusal, a silence, a silence, an attempt, a refusal, a cry, a weeping." Is that a story? I had a flash of a dog, sitting in the living room, watching an argument between husband and wife. This, exactly, seems what he would see. So put the dog in, and it's a story!

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I agree. I see that Lydia Davis piece as the starting sentence for a much much bigger story. I'm at a bit of a loss on what to feel with the piece as it sits. It's so neatly open ended, even as it is complete in the space it carves out.

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Sep 7, 2023·edited Sep 8, 2023

Lydia Davis writes mostly flash fiction, or micro-fictions (sometimes a single sentence), or prose poems. So they do not need to follow the conventions of longer works. (Longer works also don't need to follow conventions, but then a writer needs to be prepared for the reception they may get from a reader.) (Edited to add: I forgot to mention earlier that she also writes essays.)

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INTERVIEWER

You let your work be collected as “stories” but never as “short stories.” Why is that?

DAVIS

To me a short story is a defined traditional form, the sort of thing that Hemingway wrote, or Katherine Mansfield or Chekhov. It is longer, more ­developed, with narrated scenes and dialogue and so on. You could call some of my stories proper short stories. Most of the others I wouldn’t call short ­stories, even though many are very short. Some you could call ­poems—not many.

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Super interesting that it seems she's drawing a distinction between a "short story" and a "story." I like that, actually. And I like the way she's articulated this--that most of her stories are not "short stories," even though they are short and stories (by her definition). Thanks for posting!

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Almost like "short stories" have been defined, and in a way institutionalized, by generations of academic English classes. Study of "the short story" was unavoidable when I went to school, and frankly, responsible for me not liking them much. There was a kind of anal analysis, I thought, that went over my head and made me feel not too smart, or something. (I probably wasn't). But now, with Story Club, I am seeing things in a new light ! The character changes, which must make this a story!

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that's a lousy feeling--but usually it's not because you are "not smart" at all--it's because the person explaining it to you hasn't managed to transfer the information properly. Anyway, great that you've got a story in process that's working for you!

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I didn't mean it that way.

I meant being part of the Story Club story.

But I guess that's another way to look at it !

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Agree with George here.

If one's goal is to be published in mainstream venues, one will probably have to muck about with "conventional" notions of what a story is. Mold your work to fit expectations. If on the other hand, one writes from the heart, damn the torpedoes, there are no definitions.

I want writing to make unexpected connections, tweak my reality, startle me with brave syntax, make me read it twice, make me grow as a person and a writer.

Yes, that's what many of us want, the convergence of publishable, and from the heart.

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A nice quote from an interview with George: "That, in a nutshell, is what a short story is: a ritualized/formalized deeper-looking."

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Do you have the whole interview?

"Ritualized" means performed by following a prescribed pattern of actions.

Might a discussion follow the question, what prescribed patterns?

Maybe this is expanded somewhere.

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Thank you for reposting this link from my comment on Office Hours, Sparrow. Glad it and the quote about what a short story is resonated with you as well.

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Oh, yes! I must have found that link through you. (The interview sat up on my tabs bar for a few days before i got to it and by then I'd forgotten the source.) Thanks for posting it!

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This is a great interview.

So many great quotes in there.

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I like that collection by Sam Shepard too, I like just about everything Shepard writes. I’m not sure I agree his stories don’t have a beginning, middle and end. Was it Frank O’Connor or Mary Latin who wrote that a short story is “an arrow in flight” ... not the picking up of the arrow or even the landing and the aftermath, the flight.

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I like that "an arrow in flight". I think of a story as an 'in', the telling of the story and an 'out', but I like 'an arrow in light better'. And to me Sam Shepard's stories have a beginning, middle and an end. I love his writing.

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flight

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That's really slick. I found the quote in a retrospective on Mary Lavin: “an arrow in flight, or a flash of forked lightning: you know the way a flash of lightning appears to be there all in the sky at once? Beginning, middle and end, all there at once.” The retrospective appeared in the Paris Review: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/06/12/an-arrow-in-flight-the-pleasures-of-mary-lavin/

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I want a story to help me see the world with more compassion, especially for those whom I may not have understood. For example, when reading The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese, I learned so much about lepers and came away with a new respect for them. Verghese made me see how being exiled from one’s family and country is more painful than their leprosy.

I don’t need bells and whistles. Simple metaphors will do. Sometimes it is the music of the language that captures my heart. From The Covenant of Water: “Dust motes twirl inside like acrobats in a spotlight, freed from gravity, a sightso beautiful, he feels a catch in his chest.” As for Sam Shepard, he writes like a jazz player. I read him to listen to how he plays with words. His riffs spin. I believe the voice of the narrator carries a story, not the plot.

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founding

Totally agree JoAnna!

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I've always loved that Lydia Davis story because it seems to poke a little fun at the reader as though saying, you want plot in a story? I'll give you all the plot you want. All you have to do is add the characters and fill in some details.

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This is a critical question and I'm so glad someone asked. I've been wrestling with this question myself. Sometimes, I go with the "wired for story" idea of Lisa Cron, the 7 steps from ordinary world through to new ordinary world, where the character changes through the arc of the story. But there are times when I rebel against this because I'm tired of reading stories that follow the same pattern all the time. Like a Hollywood movie, there's a "sameness" about them. And I don't want that "sameness." It reminds me of the automobile (I lived in the Detroit-Windsor Metro area for 40 years). Back in the 1950s and into the 1960s, automobiles were distinct. They had fins or they had a unique shape, a T-bird, a Lotus, a Chevy Bel Air, a Ford Maverick. Then the engineering world learned about aerodynamics and now, they're all the same shape. I thought we'd lost something, although we gained fuel efficiency, which isn't to be sneezed at. So it is with stories. If we follow the 7 steps in all our stories, what makes them unique? And I don't buy the answer that it's the "characters." That's one element. There are many more. So I've picked up Sam Shepard's stories (recommended in the question) to reread in search of some answers. Thanks.

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So many different readers, and that's a good thing. When I begin a work of short fiction, I don't have any expectations...unless a friend gave me a brief "You gotta read this because..." A short story either moves me, or it doesn't. The characters can change, or as Mary G pointed out, refuse to change. Both can be interesting. The only thing that thrills me is a surprise of some kind, could be even the fact that the writer thought about such a specific thing and brought it to life to build a character, or written from a point of view that's brand new to me.

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founding

Nicely put Sea: it either moves me or it doesn’t. That moved me! It’s all about resonance between the words and the reader’s heart. In my not so humble opinion anyway....

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I recommended a story I love to a close friend, and she couldn’t get into it. I saw her yesterday, and taking my own advice here I didn’t badger her to finish it. Deep inside I couldn’t believe someone I love didn’t love the story I’m crazy about!

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I have an optimistic answer and a pessimistic one. The optimistic answer is that the piece was missing something that, for *that* editor, would qualify it as a "story." No one editor has a monopoly on that definition. And I think it's encouraging that the advice included "Make it one"--though unfortunate that no criteria were included. :) But since the OP acknowledges that the piece is missing some slices, that's a good instinct with which to move forward on a rewrite. Best of luck on that!

The pessimistic answer is that Shepard's pieces got published because . . . he was Sam Shepard. :/

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Can I read it?

Can I believe it?

Do I care?

Do I still care when I've finished?

If yes, it's a story, and likely a very good one. Poet Philip Larkin's criteria as judge of the 1977 Booker Prize. No diagnostics, just common sense.

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He threatened to jump out the window if his pick didn't win. Guess he REALLY read it, believed it and cared about it!

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founding

Colin, thanks for sharing this. For me it cuts to the heart of the matter: do I care? There are so many allegedly great stories that feel more like a writer showing off than like a writer offering an insight or a feeling tone that resonates deep inside my psyche. When I come across those, I’m hooked.

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Glad it resonates, Kurt. It's been my north star for years.

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Well, since it was my question, I can say, first: thanks! And second that it was really helpful, and I damn well agree with everything you said! I will revise (or not) according to your concise list.

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A personal observation, a published collection of short fiction will contain stories too short and too long to be published in a magazine. Some stories will be more experimental for the sake of variety. If submitting a standalone story then it doesn't get the benefit of existing inside a broader context which gives the author room to buck convention as much.

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great observation. and a good argument for collections !

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This is a question that is ever-present for me. I’ve always loved Lydia Davis’ writing precisely because it seems to say « this too, is a story. »

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