Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Size of the Story

Here's a quote from Norman Friedman's essay, "What Makes a Short Story Short?":

To sum up, a story may be short because its action is intrinsically small, or because its action, being large, is reduced in length by means of the devices of selection, scale, and/or point of view. No one can tell in advance that, if a story is short, it is short because it has a certain number of words, or because it has more unity, or because it focuses upon culmination rather than development. All we can do, upon recognizing its shortness, is to ask how and why, keeping balanced simultaneously in our minds the alternative ways of answering these questions and their possible combinations. And then we may win increased understanding and hence appreciation of the specific artistic qualities of this curious and splendid but vastly underrated art.

* * *

While the above is directed to readers, it's suggestive for readers who are also writers. He divides stories into two kinds: those that deal with material "of small compass," and those that cut and shape the material to increase "the artistic effect."


Anonymous Linda Kinnear said...

Isn't it interesting that defining a "short" story takes sooooooooo many words. Linda

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Vanessa Thomas said...

When I ask my students to write a short story, they usually give me about 4 sentences after they ask how long it has to be. When I tell them I need them to tell me the story and be sure to have a beginning, middle and end, 4 sentences. I should probably share this short story definition with them, huh?

11:43 AM  
Anonymous marly said...

I wonder how a "round robin" story would work with a class... That sort of thing was very popular with the Victorians, and it's still sometimes played as a game. You could have a story blog, each person given an entry.

Or you could blog everything from first ideas to final story.

I notice that my children can write endlessly on the sites they visit. Often one person sets up a situations and characters (within a created "world" like "Zelda"); then other people continue it.

It's not Isaac Bashevis Singer, but it is stretching the mental physique... They end up being surprisingly interested in and amused by what other kids write. And it doesn't stop them from writing their own stories and poems.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Vanessa Thomas said...

I'm not sure but I tired a "musical chairs" story with my class and had much fun and some success. We started with a prompt and I used Charlie Brown's Christmas (it was just before the holiday) music. They started writing and when the music stopped, you took your pencil and moved one seat to the left. Then, when the music started you had to read the person's story and continue with their story line hopefully. The students loved it and it really helped them see a need for focus and other stuff.
I'll have to check out some sites on the net with them for writing.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous marly said...

That sounds like a younger-kids-friendly version of the same thing. If you look on the links list on my "other" blog (remember there's a link from ours to an entry about NCCAT questions and links), you might find some good directions for web hunting. There are a number of "kid sites," and those contain links elsewhere...

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Hi Vanessa and Marly,

I too have tried versions of the round robin story and poem idea.

Have you ever played the game where the first person has to write an adjective, the second a noun the third a verb and the fourth another noun. I can't remember the name of it, it too was a Victorian game, but the kids love it. I then take the words for the sentence and make it a sentence. We do several of these and they become creative writing prompts. The kids love the ownership and the crazy sentences that they have to start with.

We also played poem relay the day before we let out for spring break. The kids were buzzing and so was I. There was NO WAY any sitting in the seats was possible, so I divided them up into teams of six, made the first three stand at one end of the room, and the second at the other. (We moved the chairs out of the way.) When I said go, the first person had to write a line in their notebook and run it to another member of their team at hte other end who had to write another line, then run to the other end. You get the picture. The first team done yelled done, and got to read their poem first. It was great fun, and took up some of the energy.

Thinking about this I think you might be able to adapt it to stories as well. The first person writes a beginning 5 sentences or more, the second, the middle five sentences or more, and the third the ending 5 sentences or more, turn it into a rely and your off and running. Pun intended.

12:12 AM  
Anonymous marly said...

I imagine that other teachers have versions of this idea... Perhaps we'll get some more.

12:15 AM  
Anonymous Donna said...

I remebered the first game is called exquisite corpse. Here is a link to the definition, how to play, and how it got it's unique name.

12:33 AM  

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