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So, the second of our short story writing course dates.
Since the first, with fellow sub-group members, we have each shared a story, read theirs, offered feedback, basked in the praise like what but geckos in the sun. Or been left floored by the brickbats, gazing up at a spinning sky as our light-source spirals up and away away leaving it dark, cold, lonely . . . Ughh.
I fared all right. Happy with mine, Jack. Cheers for that. I was looking forward to this one. Who my fellow winners? Who the losers? (Sinks chin into neck, gleefully rubs hands.)
Well. I don’t know actually. I was late and missed the bit on feedback. Terrible terrible traffic on the West Road heading into Newcastle. On a Tuesday night, who’d have thought?
But when I did make it, the room was abuzz with constructive suggestions on how to offer feedback, acknowledgement that giving is hard. As hard as receiving sometimes. I think we were all OK. Hope. In any case, Avril, as established last session, is very nurturing, determined to make the experience a positive one for all.
So. On to the theme of the night, the epical. Or Epical. I am glad I’ve never used that word because had I, I’d have used it wrongly, presuming it pertains to an epic adventure such as Odysseus’s or mine into Newcastle of a Tuesday evening. There’s nothing long and heroic about it all, apparently. It’s a short story with a twist or reveal that shows all that’s gone before in a different light.
However, having recognised that structural type in some of my very favourite short stories, actually, and some of my own, dare I say, now that I do know all about it, I’m considering a PhD proposal.
The Illogical Epical.
Ta-dah . . .!
Or wait a minute, no. The Illogical Epical’s Potential for the Comical. Whoa . . . Now we’re riffing.
Because with film-makers adapting short stories and collections increasingly (I’m thinking David Constantine’s In Another Country. Of course, I’m thinking David Constantine’s In Another Country) I’m wondering about the potential for a short story thesis musical movie crossover.
The super-epicologist-is-expert-in-disclosures-Even-though-the-sound-of-it-is . . .
A little familiar maybe? Nn.
Anyway, on the subject of familiarity (did you see what I did there?) one of the topics Avril managed to pack into our two hours together (less for some) was ‘what editors look for when selecting submissions’. Many of the ten items listed, I knew already or were obvious. Or seemed obvious. Or, oh all right, I should have known. One such item: begin or end with images. Obvious, right? Leave the reader with something vivid they’ll remember. I know that. Should have known that.
But I hadn’t done that with the story I submitted for feedback, whose ending I have always found really irritatingly unsatisfactory.
Furthermore (and here, actually, is the really great thing) one of my classmates in her feedback had wondered if I couldn’t clarify the protagonist’s intentions at the end. My intention was to hint at it but only hint at it. (Fair enough, surely. A nod is as good as a wink even in the epical short story, no? And it is epical. Sorry, Epical. I know that now.) Said classmate’s suggestion was to relocate said protagonist to a place already described in the story that, as it just so serendipitously happens, perfectly implies his intention. For being visually imaginable, a much much stronger ending than the ambiguous abstract promise I left the feller making to himself.
So, thank you, Amanda, thank you, Avril. Personal feedback and course content aligning like what but spinning planets around a sun. We have an improved short story. Win win.
Talking only for myself, of course, about last month.
Next, we change the feedback format. Next month, we read just two pages of everybody’s work and tell them what we think in class. That’s orally. Face to face, with nothing between us but a table. Not even cyberspace.
I might be late. I mean like the West Road might just be gridlocked.
Clayton Lister is a long-time lover of the short story. Most recently, his stories have appeared in Bare Fiction, Prole Magazine and the HISSAC Winners Anthology.