Friday, 3 October 2014

What’s the Story?

I’m a keen student of myself (let’s face it, if I don’t study me, nobody else will!) So I’ve been keeping a weather eye on my short story work, especially as I reach the end of the first year of my Stew Magazine contributions. I’ve written ten flash fiction stories for Stew so far, each one between 600 and 800 words. Five of those have been printed, with a sixth coming in the November/December issue. One or two of the others may appear in future issues, but inevitably some stories suit publication in the magazine better than others.

It’s always been my policy to let the story concepts evolve organically, then once the idea has formed, to write the actual words as quickly as possible. Thus, some months I might write three stories, and other months none at all. Every story is conceptually completely different to every other, and yet it’s fascinating to me to see the similarities that exist between them. Here are some common themes I’ve picked up:
  • Point of view: All of the stories are written in first-person. Many of my protagonists are nameless, and often cast in the role of passive observer – acting as a clear proxy for the reader. In many ways, I can see that these short stories have allowed me to explore passive characterisation in a form where this enhances, rather than detracts from the reader’s experience. If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told off for allowing characters in my various novels to be too passive, I’d be rich enough to lie around all day doing nothing!
  • Bring on the darkness: Without fail, bad things happen in these stories, even the ones that initially seem playful. In fact, the latter stories are arguably even darker because they allow initial rays of light in, before shutting out the sun forever. In The Door Keeper, I take the theme of darkness to its logical extreme and stage most of the story in the pitch black!
  • The end of the world: Apocalypse Wow was the first story I wrote for Stew, and ever since then the apocalyptic themes keep resurfacing. I’m drawn to extremes as a writer, and like to extrapolate current trends to place my characters in seemingly unwinnable situations. Sometimes they barely escape with their lives, other times I kill everyone (evil cackle).
  • It’s not all doom and gloom: Although the above points may make the stories sound depressingly nihilistic, they aren’t intended to come across that way at all. Some of them are actually quite humorous, and I hope they all hold emotional truths. These are stories for and about kids, after all, and it’s often said that children’s stories should end on a note of hope. Even in the story where the world is destroyed, my aim is to express some hope for human nature, to make readers reflect on their own mortality and live more fully while they still can. I’m also very clearly talking to myself on that point!
  • If in doubt, subvert: Now I’ve discovered all these themes, I reserve the right to completely subvert them in the very next thing I write! In fact, this process of subversion is essential to keep things fresh, both for me and the reader. Expect the unexpected.

I retain the rights for all my Stew work, and I’ve been idly thinking about self-publishing the stories in a separate anthology. This is particularly because I know a lot of you haven’t read them in Stew and may be wondering what the hell I’m yammering on about. However, when I pulled together all ten flash fiction stories, they only amounted to 7,000 words – which is a very short e-book. Maybe I need to do another year of this before I have enough content to warrant asking people to pay money for it. In the meantime, I’m looking into bringing some back issues of Stew to the SCBWI conference, if anyone would like to buy one. More details on that when I’ve worked out exactly what I’m doing!


1 comment:

  1. What really stands out to me is 'subvert'. That and Pixar's 12th rule of storytelling about discounting the obvious.
    That's set the imagination churning thanks Nick :)