Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant

We read and write short stories with the understanding that they are part of a whole, a segment of a life. And while good stories generally need to be about an incident or set of circumstances, I am wondering at what point in the telling does a reader become satisfied and say, Okay, you can stop now.

There are so many stories that, while something may indeed change, nothing is resolved. Neat and tidy means the writer hasn’t mined their characters deep enough. Like a personal trainer who lets their client off with two pushup sets instead of three (or ten). Michelle, I want my muse to say, stop and give me twenty. But after your characters have been fleshed out, where in the messy aftermath of the story's change do you close up shop?

I suppose one way to find your stopping point is to put an internal clock on the story (a weekend, a vacation, a restaurant meal) and stop the outer story when this clock expires (Sunday night, the flight home, the meal check). After that, all you can do is hope readers will think about the story after they've read the last word, and wonder how the characters will carry on.

3 comments:

John said...

I think that circumscribing a story by setting an internal clock is practical.

I don't know how many times, though, I've heard readers say that they want more here and here and here with regard to a character. What's sometimes frustrating there is that I feel I've fleshed out a character enough to allow readers to wonder how the character will carry on.

So for me the question becomes how to get readers to wonder while simultaneously feeling satisfied with what I've given them.

Michelle Panik O'Neill said...

A friend of mine is dealing with the same characterization issue you bring up. I read a story draft of hers, and didn't quite pick up on all the important traits she wants the character to be imbued with. But she said earlier drafts were bonking the reader over the head with the character's issues.

But this is a slightly different matter from what you bring up. In terms of after the story ends, it's a fine line between giving enough to make a reader wonder how the character will carry on, but not allowing this wonder to frustrate them or think the story is incomplete.

Fight the good fiction fight, John!

John said...

A fight, to be sure, and it is kicking my ass. :- )