Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No mysteries in the short story room

Yes: that is a reference to a classic Chris Rock skit.

... I think.

I finished another short story this morning: the wild, fortress-bound romp of "In Fourland." It was fun and gave me a chance to stretch my wings within the realm I had envisioned - a realm particularly dominated by lightning and lightning-bolts. But I realized, upon completion, that - fun world-building, creativity-enlarging, and power-axing aside - it went in directions unsuitable for short story publication.

The problem was that certain promises were made to the reader, and certain mysteries could be proposed within the context of the story but not resolved therein. The same effect occurred when I wrote "The Hell Patrol;" namely, that the satisfaction of the story-as-read could not be fulfilled because the end was held back by mysteries earlier proposed. Theoretically, any sort of uncertainty that arises early in the story - whether it be the identity of a character or the meaning of someone's actions or beliefs - ought to be resolved by the end. I can conceive of some exceptions, probably some very minute details of world-building or characterization. But, if these things add up to insignificance, I think we can say that they are not mysteries at all, and never needed to be resolved.

Fig. 1: Satisfaction.
I suppose what I am speaking to specifically is that both of these stories create scenarios that give room for follow-up, serialization, or novelization - in short, continuance. This is fine; I would like to write more in those worlds, because they are fun and I like the characters I've found there. But the stories, if they are going to be short stories, or indeed "stories" that can stand on their own at all, must have closed ends: they must find satisfaction, and leave the reader not demanding: "What? What?" (Which is pretty much what I was thinking when I read them over, and, heck, I'm the writer.)

Thus, going in to my next tale - which is sort of about a biker gang if they didn't ride motorbikes and ate radioactive heavy metals instead - I've fleshed out very concrete firsts and lasts. There will still be room for "more," if more should be hungered after, but the story will form a complete line segment: a beginning, middle and end with every piece thoroughly in place and identified to some degree or other. In short, it ought to be roughly as satisfying as strawberry rhubarb pie.

To wit: go back and look at that delicious pie!


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