It’s not that I don’t like reading or writing short fiction. It’s just that I haven’t done it much. I’ve always preferred novels. Trying my hand at writing short stories, I see why I’ve avoided them. They’re fragile. If you mishandle them, they splinter and the fragments don’t want to be put back together again.
A novel can wander, digress, be loose. Its surprises can be multiple and full-bellied. But the surprise in a short story (and there probably isn’t room for more than one) must be carefully managed.
The story I’m working on now (untitled because, frankly, l don’t know what it’s about) is slippery and doesn’t want me to hold onto it. Sure, the characters are here. They have names. Jim. Jacqueline. Hiram. I know who they are and where the action takes place. But I’m not sure what they’re doing here. And what do they say to each other? Why?
I’m beginning to feel like a fictional character, myself: imaginary, unsubstantial, held together under a thin veneer. Why don’t I just accept the fact that nothing is nothing and not something? The key question is: can I sit at my desk long enough to finally realize why I want to write words instead of, say, go to an easy movie, read an easy book, or spend a couple of hours on the Internet?
Can I endure the void, the emptiness that hollows me out when I admit there’s nothing to lean on but my passion for writing and that sometimes even passion isn’t strong enough to hold me up? That ultimately the only meaning in life is the meaning I manage to squeeze out of it?
I’ve done it time and again with novels, but with this short story, this time, right now, it feels as if I’m exploring something that isn’t supposed to be explored. That I’ll never see the little story whole. That it won’t let me because it doesn’t want me to know what it’s really about.
Writing schedules help. Habit helps. Ultimately, if this story gets written, gets finished, it will probably be because, like my novels, the mundane tasks of editing language and attending to grammar and throwing around a metaphor or two will take over and something unexpected will happen and it will be right. I won’t be looking so I won’t know what it is or how to duplicate it in my next story.
If I wanted something easy, I could wash my hair and then catch a little television. If there were a formula, everyone would be Chekhov.