The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Time in the Short Story

I have experimented with a short story that assembled flash-length moments from across three or four decades (“Thirteen Glimpses of My Mother Unaware of Being Watched”—in the Fiddlehead #226) and another that covered a year in the life of two families (“The Zyches”—unpublished), but I really believe that the short story’s power is best tapped into within a condensed time frame.

Recently I’ve discovered the short stories of Robert Stone and two by him have struck me as masterpieces: “Miserere” and “Helping”. There are flashback moments but the main action takes place well within a day. And that time-line compression adds to the emotional punch.

That ability to show so much about the world within a tight focus marks some of the greatest short stories. “Counterparts” by James Joyce is a man’s work day and then his evening at home. In a nutshell, he has a hard day and comes home and hits his kids. Along the way, he manages to tell us some terrible truths about human experience. It’s my favourite short story. Although I did only read it the once. I can’t bear to read it again.

I’ve been trying myself to write a few stories that explore a single chunk of time. But I’m not having any luck. I think part of the problem is my day-job. I’m a therapist. I’m used to looking for patterns across time. It’s so habitual that my brain is instantaneously non-linear.

So, I’m trying to find a different organizing principle. If time flows freely, what is it that will provide the skeleton?


Blogger Darby said...

the sun

Wed Aug 27, 02:52:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Interesting post. For the moment a writer focuses on to have power and impact, it must encompass so many other moments the writer doesn't chronicle. A significant challenge. I will hunt down those stories you mentioned, Andrew. Thanks

Wed Aug 27, 07:21:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Yes, this is interesting. I think I tend to look for connections over time, also. I've not been writing much flash fiction lately, a form that does look to 'moments.'

Thu Aug 28, 06:08:00 pm GMT-4  

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