Georgia Behrens leaps to the defence of the beleaguered short story.
For too long, the short story has been condemned as the novel’s poorer, uglier, less-charismatic cousin. It has been thought of by many as the Mr Collins to the novel’s Mr Darcy: well intentioned, yes; entertaining, certainly- but altogether lacking the depth, devastating good looks and je ne sais quoi of its altogether more marriageable literary counterpart. Too many of us have following the lead of writer JG Ballard in decrying the short story as “the loose change in the treasury of fiction, easily ignored beside the wealth of novels available, an often over-valued currency that often turns out to be counterfeit.”
There are, of course, plenty of writers and critics who contest that it is invalid to compare the two literary forms; that to strike a comparison between short and long stories is as futile as it is to draw one between poetry and prose. But the beleaguered short story has thus far been incapable of extricating itself from this unfortunate, habitual comparison, and is thus often defined in terms of what it lacks in relation to the novel. Depth, complexity and ambition are all (incorrectly) assumed to be synonymous with sheer length in the literary realm. Meanwhile, the fact that many well-known writers such as Ian McEwan began their careers with collections of short stories leads many to presume that short stories are the preserve of writers who don’t have the skill, discipline or ambition to sustain longer works.
Here are the NSW Writers’ Centre, we beg to differ. Throughout history, short fiction has been a site for as much literary innovation and impeccable writing as its more widely-read novel counterpart. As anyone who has read the short fiction of Joyce, Borges and Chekhov- or, in the more recent years, Elizabeth Strout or Uwem Akpar- will readily attest, the short story is an endless source of insight, intrigue and entertainment. It is a form which, as Chris Power writes, “acknowledges the vastness and diversity of the life by the very act of focusing on one small moment or aspect of it.”
So, this week, we’ll be keeping it short, looking at the who, what, when, where, why and how of short stories. In short: stay tuned.
If you’re interested in short stories, have a look at out upcoming panel, “The Short Story”, part of our new series, The Library of Unwritten Stories.
The Library of Unwritten Stories is an eight week program which alternates between panels and writing group meetings.
The NSW Writers’ Centre and the City of Sydney Libraries are teaming up to present The Library of Unwritten Stories, a dynamic new program for young writers aged under 30 with a chance to establish a new writers’ group. The importance of Writers’ Groups – small meetings where writers can read and comment on each other’s work – is often underestimated. This will be a chance for young writers to meet each other, explore the potential for collaborative projects, be mentored by industry professionals and develop their own work.
The Library of Unwritten Stories will alternate weekly between talks from industry guests and the writing group meetings. Talks will focus on the short story and each guest will set a writing challenge for the next week’s meeting.
When: Wednesday evenings: September 5, 19 & 26; October 3, 10, 17, 24 & 31, 6-7pm
To book a place please visit the Library of Unwritten Stories Eventbrite page.