List Stories: How they work, what they offer

Tiny handwritten notes listing very general and largely illegible types of lists

This post is about short stories written as/around lists. It is based on notes from my short-story reading posts. (For background on the three-mood story structure, see Story Shapes — Three Mood Stories.)

Outline of this post (it should link to the relevant section):

I hope to write a shorter version one day.

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2022 Writing Update

Photo of hand holding tiny cut-paper forest

I have been writing (mostly editing) although my literary-creativity brain was largely offline for almost half of 2022, and I now have some catching up to do! However, some pieces I’m really pleased with were published.

Short fiction and adjacencies

  • Sold, coming out in 2023, and I’ll tell you more once tables of contents are announced:
    • “The Five Lazy Sisters”
    • “Catechism for Those Who Would Find Witches”
    • “Annie Coal”
  • Other:
    • Tiny illustrated stories for patrons: Between 11 and infinite, depending on how you count them. “Shrine”; “Memorial”; “Artist”; “The Tiger”; “The Girls in the House”; “Reputation”; “What a Terrible Situation” (multiple); “Visitor”; “The Lion and the Tortoise”; “The Bee and the Frog”; “The Mule and the Artichoke”. (I might have missed some.)
Black and grey pen drawing: A family of four figurines tied together and leaning against a milk jug.

Other Projects

Little leafy divider

Ongoing, WIP, and fate to be decided

  • Extensive reworking on a short novel! Which now has more edits. It’s the urban gothic previously alluded to.
  • The PhD project — the topic has changed to be about the observation journal, and the creative project is now the novel above. The original PhD manuscript is awaiting further edits, but “Merry in Time“, published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies this year, is connected.
  • Another full year of the observation journal.
  • “The Crescent Line”: another railway piece (in the spirit of Travelogues).
  • Two projects I’m excited about, based on existing work — I will tell you more once titles are confirmed!
  • Other things…
On the right, notes on scene placement in Cinderella, with some coloured sketches.

November 2022 Short Story Reading Post

Photo of handwritten notes — key sections extracted below

This post is a roughly tidied version of my November 2022 tweets about short stories. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post (that links to where they are first mentioned, but there’s often further discussion).

A short post this month! I was travelling for most of it, and also preparing and giving a writing workshop on short stories at World Fantasy, and an academic paper at the WIP conference at UQ. However, it is still a relatively long post, so the rest is below the cut…

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Text Journal publication — Retelling Tales

Screenshot of start of linked article

My short piece “Some Ways to Retell a Fairy Tale” has been published in TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses!

It began as a series of observations about retellings that I’d encountered in the short-story reading project, but quickly grew into its own… direction? reference guide? invocation? invitation? litany?

En Route — notes from a train

Photo of Amtrak Viewliner carriage at New Orleans

Some trips are easier to communicate from than others, and as previously expressed, I find it very difficult to work on trains.

Last week, I rode from New Orleans to NYC, a two-day trip (in a roomette!). I stared out the window almost the entire time, and made these notes.

Screenshot of first few tweets in linked thread

They form two lengthy (linked) threads on Twitter, but I will edit them for elegance soon.

However, if you prefer a little more brevity, Travelogues contains 9 substantially shorter train journeys:

October 2022 Short Story Reading Post

Photo of handwritten notes — key sections extracted below

This post is a roughly tidied version of my October 2022 tweets about short stories. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post (that links to where they are first mentioned, but there’s often further discussion). Also, as usual, this post is long, so the rest is below the cut…

(Also, I’ve hurt my arm, so this is even less tidied than usual.)

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Short stories: Rites and rituals and structure

Ballpoint drawing of a tawny frogmouth on a wire

As part of this year’s short story reading project, I’ve been noticing the strong structural and structuring pull rite or rituals exert on stories.

Structurally (and that’s how I’m talking about them in this post), rituals can be a way to first summon a story and peel apart a world, and then at the end to stitch through many layers, to mend and make new. And of course ritual brings with it layers of language, formulation, knowledge, history, time, family, the numinous brushing the physical, a way of altering the world or being acknowledged and changed by it, and (rendered bureaucratic) all the ways that can be made soulless.

This post is lengthy… (among other things, after the initial draft I injured myself in a way that made editing very difficult).

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September 2022 Short Story Reading Post

Photo of open notebook with handwritten notes on stories (transcribed and expanded below)

This post is a roughly tidied version of my September 2022 tweets about short stories. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post. Also, as usual, this post is long, so the rest is below the cut…

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Observation Journal: Swapping characterisations and roles

On this observation journal page, I was playing with more ways to look at a story (written or drawn) with fresh eyes.

It was a process I wanted to use on my own sketches and drafts, but as usual, I tried it out on a fairy tale first.

Double page spread of observation journal. Tiny handwritten observations on day and a drawing of a strand of leaves getting caught in a cafe fan. Notes swapping characterisations

I used “Little Red Riding Hood”, because I’d just spent a couple pages on it in another context (The Story Behind the Story).

First, I kept the characters in their established roles (Little Red Riding Hood playing herself, the Mother playing the Mother, the Wolf… well, you know). For each, I listed their obvious/easy/common traits. This is easy and fun — leaning into stereotypes and cliches in order to use their strength against them is usually a good time (see e.g. The Caudwell Manoeuvre).

Then I mixed them up.

CharacterUsual personality
LRRinnocent and plucky
Mothersolicitous but hands-off
Wolfwily & ferocious
Grandmotherfrail & vulnerable
Woodcuttertaciturn & pragmatic
Washerwomencheerful and in solidarity
(I like the version with the helpful laundry ladies at the river)

I then moved each characteristic up by one. Now it’s a story about a cool and capable Little Red Riding Hood, sent by her ferocious mother to visit her taciturn, pragmatic grandmother. On the way, she meets a frail, vulnerable wolf…

Next, I pushed things further by keeping the story the same, but having the characters play each others’ roles. Now it’s a tale of a washerwomen sent into the forest by a wolf to visit a child, and on the way they meet a treacherous woodcutter…

You could use either approach to shake up a story for retelling. But I’ve found it useful as a thought exercise when working on projects — drawn or written! I mightn’t ultimately make these changes, but playing through these exercises can highlight where I’ve made easy instead of interesting choices with a character, or identify where my original choice was correct but needs to be done with more deliberateness or flamboyance. And it’s an interesting way to break open someone else’s story in order to analyse it, or to have fun with it.

Writing/illustration exercise

  • Choose a story (written or visual). It can be someone else’s or your own.
    • List the characters. Next to each, briefly describe their obvious/default personality. Keep this simple. If it seems stereotypical, that’s fine.
    • Now, swap the characteristics around. Either randomly, or by shifting them all along one space.
    • Do a quick sketch (drawn or a paragraph) of what the story might now look like. (And make a note of any new ideas it gives you.)
  • Make a table with a list of roles (key characters) from the story. In the next column, put the same characters, but shuffled.
    • Pretend each character now has to play the new role to which you’ve assigned them.
    • Do a quick sketch (drawn or a paragraph) of what the story might now look like. (And make a note of any new ideas it gives you.)
  • Bonus, for each: Make a note of what worked, and what you liked, and see if you can identify why. Identify where the changes broke the story, or how robust the original idea was.
Tiny ballpoint sketch of leaves getting caught in a cafe fan.
Bird and man watching plastic leaves get caught in a cafe fan

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The Year’s Best Fantasy Vol. 1

My copy of The Year’s Best Fantasy Vol. 1 (2021), edited by Paula Guran, has arrived! It includes my short story “Gisla and the Three Favours”, first published last year in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #43.

Cover of The Year's Best Fantasy Vol. 1

Here’s the table of contents. I’ve linked to my notes on each story (except for my own).

  • Marika Bailey, “The White Road; Or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River” (Fiyah #18) (notes)
  • Elizabeth Bear, “The Red Mother” (Tor.com) (notes)
  • Tobias Buckell, “Brickomancer” (Shoggoths in Traffic and Other Stories) (notes)
  • P. Djèlí Clark, “If the Martians Have Magic” (Uncanny #42) (notes)
  • Roshani Chokshi, “Passing Fair and Young” (Sword Table Stone: Old Legend, New Voices) (notes)
  • Varsha Dinesh, “The Demon Sage’s Daughter” (Strange Horizons 2/8/21) (notes)
  • Andrew Dykstal, “Quintessence” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #324) (notes)
  • James Enge, “Drunkard’s Walk (F&SF 5-6) (notes)
  • Karen Joy Fowler, “The Piper” (F&SF 1-2) (notes)
  • Carlos Hernandez & C. S. E. Cooney, “A Minnow, or Perhaps a Colossal Squid (Mermaids Monthly, April) (notes)
  • Kathleen Jennings, “Gisla and the Three Favors” (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #43)
  • Allison King, “Breath of the Dragon King” (Fantasy #72) (notes)
  • PH Lee, “Frost’s Boy” (Lightspeed #128) (notes)
  • Yukimi Ogawa, “Her Garden the Size of Her Palm (F&SF 7-8) (notes)
  • Tobi Ogundiran, “The Tale of Jaja and Canti” (Lightspeed #135) (notes)
  • Richard Parks. “The Fox’s Daughter (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #344) (notes)
  • Karen Russell, “The Cloud Lake Unicorn” (Conjunctions:76) (notes)
  • Sofia Samatar, “Three Tales from the Blue Library” (Conjunctions:76) (notes)
  • Catherynne Valente, “L’Esprit de Escalier” (Tor.com) (notes)
  • Fran Wilde, “Unseelie Bros, Ltd.” (Uncanny #40) (notes)
  • Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, “Gray Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts” (Apex #121) (notes)
  • Isabel Yap,“A Spell for Foolish Hearts” (Never Have I Ever) (notes)
  • E. Lily Yu, “Small Monsters” (Tor.com) (notes)