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).
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…
This post is a roughly tidied version of my August 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…
This post is a roughly tidied version of my July 2022 tweets about short stories. It was curtailed by travel, but is still quite long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.
Also a warning: I was either in transit or badly jetlagged for a lot of this. Coherency may vary.
This post is a roughly tidied version of my June 2022 tweets about short stories. It’s quite long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.
Here, I started trying to build up a story shape in the other direction. First I made a list of emotions. Then I picked three at random and looked at what sort of story that progression would suggest.
Here’s the initial list of moods (non-exhaustive):
After picking three at random, I looked for the sort of story which that progression of moods might suggest. For example:
greed — doubt — aggression –> acquisitiveness and wanting leads to falsity and the fear of potential failure which then leads to destruction (of self? of the object of desires? indiscriminate?) in that pursuit
naïveté — desire — placidity –> ignorance/innocence being swept up in honest pursuit of its desire, and then achieving its happily ever after having successfully learned no lesson. (I’d already written an earlier draft of “Merry in Time“at this point, but it was a structure I wanted to lean into on those edits. Arguably lessons ARE learnt in that story, but not — I hope — the obvious ones for that shape of story.)
These clearly suggested story-shapes. I also liked the way that, taken together, the moods definitely implied an end state — a final note towards which to aim.
Here’s a little sketch of an idea:
Parts of this one (although not quite identifiable) have 100% got into parts of a subsequent large project (yet to be announced). The idea also contains concerns taken up in”Not To Be Taken” (in Bitter Distillations).
On the next page, I tried combining two moods (at random) for added nuance.
suspicious bewilderment –> seething greed –> surprised revulsion be careful what you wish for / dreams of avarice
affectionate instigation –> knowledgeable horror –> doubtful anticipation succeeding too well
melodramatic delight –> greedy fear –> antagonistically supportive lives(?) for the drama
I also tried rearranging positions of the moods to see what would happen.
The main additional lesson from this page was the power of adjectives, and how much they modulate the expression of a mood.
Make a list of Big Moods (emotions/vibes/driving concerns). Try for at least 10, although 20 is usually more profitable. Think of moods you like from stories, emotions you’ve felt recently, etc. Or use the list earlier in this post.
Pick three at random.
Imagine they form the beginning, middle and end of a story. Make some notes as to what sort of story they suggest.
For example, if I chose “delight –> bewilderment –> repentance”, that might suggest an “all that glitters is not gold” story.
Think of a possible situation and character for that story — if nothing comes quickly to mind, pick a character and setting from a fairy tale or other template story, or just someone/thing you’ve seen today.
E.g. if I used the stick cubby picture above with “delight –> bewilderment –> repentance”, that could become a story about someone finding a cubby in the trees, and being charmed by it, and getting inside it, and then… well, all is not as it seems (and you’re in season 1 of Stranger Things).
Sketch out (in words or pictures) a tiny scene or moment for that possible story, capturing part of that vibe. If you’re having trouble choosing, consider what the final scene might be.
E.g. a kid scrambling delightedly into an ominous hiding place — or scrabbling desperately to get out.
Bonus: Repeat this a few times. Notice anything that particularly works for you — or doesn’t. Are there story-shapes or ideas that particularly spark? Moods that resonate for you, or which you have to struggle to like or capture? Story types or genres you tend towards? Make a note — that’s all useful information for things to try (or evade) in future.
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This post is a roughly tidied version of my March 2022 tweets about short stories. It’s extremely long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.
Parts will very likely end up in other posts in the future. There are ideas coalescing, including thoughts on e.g. stories of revolution, loss, communication, witness, and the metaphorical weight of birds — and thoughts on the emphases and accents of speculative fiction, and the evolution of stories on given themes.
This post is a roughly tidied/slightly edited version of a Twitter thread I’ve been keeping, tracking my February 2022 short story reading. It is extremely long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. Parts will very likely end up in other posts in the future. And at the very end of this post is a list of all the stories read.
This post is a roughly tidied/slightly edited version of a Twitter thread I kept, tracking my January 2022 (and late December 2021) short story reading. It is extremely long, and I plan to extract sections of it into more concise posts in the future.
However, for posterity, here it is. Story notes are in regular text, my thoughts are in bold, in case that makes it easier to skip around. Feel free to ask for more detail/clarity. And I’ll edit this with links to related posts from time to time. [Note: I’ve started to drop in some very brief story descriptions to jog my own memory, but it might take a while to complete those, due to the aforementioned memory][Further note: there is now a full list of stories read at the very end of this post]
On this observation journal page I wanted to pull back a bit from the structure and engines of stories and make a list of twenty purposes for a short story. (For the artists: I’ve found this list works pretty well for one stand-alone illustration/vignette or a several linked smallish images.)
As with all the observation journal activities, the aim was to work out which purposes occurred (and appealed) to me. It is a personal and subjective list, and specific to quite short stories. It is also a list that might change if I was thinking about a particular genre or mood.
But it has been very useful for concentrating my attention on several projects. This is one of the pages that has gone into my master list of Lists To Refer To When Stuck.
This is a personal list, and I do recommend making your own (as usual with the observation journal, making the list and noticing what mattered to me — here, beauty and puzzles — was the point). However, for completeness, here is the list:
TWENTY PURPOSES FOR A SHORT STORY
To fit a novel’s-worth of feeling into one place
Like Barrie’s pixies, to be completely full of one thought/emotion with no room for others
To try out an Idea(TM)
To frame a scene
To experiment with structure
To experiment on the reader
To be a jewelled delight or thrill or horror that fits neatly in the palm of the hand
To be all imagery
To be stones in the foundation of a world
To create a mythos
To be a beautiful object
To catch the feeling of one piece of art/illustration
To conceal a secret
To be a gift for a particular person/reader
To wreak vengeance on a particular person/reader
To see if I can solve a puzzle [I do not, as a reader, like being set puzzles]
To be a door into a wilderness/let a mysterious breeze through
To call the edges of reality into doubt — to be a haunting in the wallpaper, a shadow in the glass
Activity for artists/writers:
What is a thing you frequently make (or would like to make)? Short stories? Poems? Illuminated vignettes?
Make a list of at least twenty possible purposes for that thing.
If there are any patterns, or reasons which excite you more than others, make a note of that.
Choose a purpose from the list at random. Think of a project you are working on or an idea you have. If that purpose was the primary reason for you to make this thing, how might you change what you do? Write a few lines or do a quick sketch of the altered/concentrated idea. If it’s clearly the wrong fit, what project might that purpose suit? Edit to add some examples:
For example, a story about a haunted chimney that exists to “create a mythos” would be very focussed on the sort of wider world to which this haunted chimney belongs, while if it were to “be a jewelled delight” my concern would be to get really into the rich details of chimney architecture.
Similarly, if this illustration about a haunted chimney were to “torment a particular friend”, the ghost would be painfully handsome, and there’d be lots of mythology hinted at in the carvings around the fireplace. But if it were to call the edges of reality into doubt, there’d be other ghosts lurking in the corners of the room.
Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).