By chance, I surfed my way into Poets and Writers online today and was very fortunate to fall into their videos of “Authors on Short Stories”. I was pleasantly surprised to find that perhaps the author who is the subject of many, if not most, of the videos is Stephen King, who answers questions, discusses the craft of writing short stories, and reads from his works. You should not miss his talk on the difficulty of writing short stories and the trickiness of writing novellas. There is also a video with comments by several current short story writers on the difficulty of writing short stories, which echoes Mr. King’s comments on the difficulty in writing short stories.
I was surprised, though I probably shouldn’t have been, to hear Mr. King talk about the artistry of Raymond Carver in writing short stories. I have read one collection of Carver’s short stories (Where I’m Calling From) and they are nowhere near the horror genre, though they are great examples of mainstream literary storytelling as an art form.
Mr. King’s point about Carver’s stories is that he was a master of keeping stories short, which Mr. King finds difficult to do. He says that he often starts a story and before long it is ballooning into a novel. Raymond Carver had a great ability to keep his stories very short. As I mentioned, I have read a Where I’m Calling From and all the stories in it tend to be very short. I am guessing in the 2,000 -5,000 word range at most. Although I tended to find them boring at the time I read them in the mid-eighties, I have to admit that when I look back on them now, I am amazed at the depth contained in each.
Though I am only a fledgling writer with few stories to my credit, I am already learning that I share one thing in common with Mr. King: I find that I often start writing a short story and before I am very far along with it, it balloons into a potential novel, of which I have about three or four that I work on from time to time. In fact, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I have started exploring the distinctions between short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels, because so many of my planned short stories are developing into novelettes and novellas.
It is amazing how a story seems to take on a life of its own and grow whether you want it to or not. It is very difficult to keep a story to within a limited number of words. King mentions that this is one thing at which Carver excelled. As I said, when I read Carver’s stories, I found them boring. But now that I am pursuing the craft of writing much more seriously than I did then and I reflect on King’s statement, I can appreciate the enormous difficulty Carver must have had in keeping his tales so compact. I am only now starting to appreciate Carver’s artistry. I should probably go back and read more of his works just to better my own writing. I guess I am maturing in my art.
However, just because this post is turning out to be longer than I had intended does not mean that I am maturing in my art. It just means that once again I am being longwinded and that I have a tendency to ramble.
If you have a chance, it would be worth your while as well to check out the works of Raymond Carver. Though he is not an author of horror, he has a lot to offer to the study of writing as an art.