The Nonfiction (But Also Fiction) Short Story Collection

A nonfiction & fiction collection of short stories combines multiple genres at once. Although this approach to a story allows for a very detailed plot, the mixture of both nonfiction and fiction may disrupt the tone and flow of the story. It is crucial to be able to balance the nonfiction and fiction aspects fluidly to create a story that naturally flows whilst communicating plots points that are necessary to the story’s growth. Likewise, a collection of short stories creates a fluid interaction between papers, though it is still important that you accentuate each paper’ unique strengths. As with any genre, especially this one which is comprised of so many moving parts, there are certain expectations to improve your rate of success.

Considering that most people do not have the patience or interest to want to begin reading your story, it is vital to attract and maintain your reader’s attention at every stopping point of the reading journey. Below are guidelines I have created for writing within this genre:

  • Quality over quantity. Focus on developing a single or few characters versus introducing many characters. Because the objective of a short story is to communicate a compelling story given limited space, it is important that the characters that are present in the piece are fleshed out enough so that the reader actually knows who they are; the reader should not be trying to learn about a plethora of characters within the span of a short story, which would derail the focus.
  • One story at a time. Don’t try to paint an entire timeline of your life. A short story revolves more around one event and the effects & implications that instance has had on your life. Like the previous guideline, by limiting the amount of space to write, this allows you to narrow your focus on expanding a high-quality story that reader will be able to fully understand.
Developing too many stories or characters at one time will make the reader lost and confused, like in a maze. Don’t make your reader have to piece together a complicated story with little guidance.
  • Power as a whole, yet independence as an individual. Each story should be fully independent. The reader should not be forced to read another short story to reasonably understand the plot of any story in the collection. However, by combining all the stories together, the grouped collection of these stories should improve the readers’ experience as connections are being created between each story to enhance the plots’ contexts.
  • Imagery is your best friend—and only friend. With little space to elaborate or describe anything, visuals allow the reader to consume a large amount of information at once whilst creating an image of the situation that directly matches the writer’s intentions. Vivid and clear descriptions prevent substantial confusion that implicit statements or metaphors may otherwise cause, which is especially important in the limited amount of space a short story has.
  • Take advantage of fiction. Keep in mind that the objective of the short story may sometimes require fictitious content to convey the main idea. Moderate how much of the text is fiction and nonfiction (if any) and focus on the primary goal of the story. If your objective would be more strongly emphasised if a specific moment occurred, craft that moment and interweave it with the nonfiction aspects to create an interesting mix of truth & fiction. The fiction should help to enhance the nonfiction portions of the story, and vice versa.
In all seriousness, readers should not be able to tell which parts are fiction or nonfiction; any fiction should blend in closely with what is already nonfiction on the page.
  • Be proactive in providing information. Share valuable information necessary for the progression & development of the story as early as possible. Provide the information in a succinct manner, but do not leave out details that may ultimately prove to be important later in the plot. Prevent the readers from having to step out of the plot to educate themselves to then understand the plot itself. This makes the reader lose focus.

 

Check out some of these examples of great collections of either short stories, vignettes, or essays; these may not necessarily align exactly with this genre, however many seem to share similar features:

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 2015.

After further research, the vignette style that Cisneros uses in her book effectively gives a vicarious look into important moments in her life without going into extensive detail. This brevity is fundamental as it zooms in and goes straight to the peak of the story and the takeaway message & purpose of the story without elaborating on details that the reader may find distracting or uninteresting to learn. Cisneros uses an interesting tactic of including stories that are often from different perspectives as well, allowing for implicit character development through seeing something in that character’s lens occasionally. This is an interesting tool to provide the same story twice, but under different perspectives, which can create two entirely different plots.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “ESSAYS.” Edited by Edna H. L. Turpin, The Project Gutenberg EBook of Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson., 15 Mar. 2012, www.gutenberg.org/files/16643/16643-h/16643-h.htm.

When Emerson’s essays are all combined together as a single book, this creates an interesting connection between all of them despite that they each focus on different topics. Whilst crafting a collection of short stories, seeing the organisation of this collection of Emerson’s essay is helpful to know when chaining stories together to create a fluid plot. Another important takeaway from this text is that each story—or in Emerson’s case, each essay—should be independent of each other, such that the reader should be able to fully understand the plot in one piece without having to read another. Essentially, by grouping the papers together, this should enhance the overall reading experience by offering a relational insight via comparing each piece under varied lens, independently.

Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street.” Melville, Herman. 1853. Bartleby, the Scrivener, www.bartleby.com/129/.

This single short story by Melville about a lawyer working at Wall Street and his interactions with a newly hired and defiant clerk shows the tremendous detail that goes into developing each character, such as the lengthy paragraph that introduces Bartleby’s three employees. This allows the reader to quickly visualise and consume information necessary to understand the plot later in the text. The detailed descriptions of seemingly unnecessary features of each character and the setting allow the reader to be able to paint a very vivid image of the scene, activating the reader’s imagination to match the meanings that the writer is trying to convey, thus showing the value of providing detailed visual descriptions to make up for the brevity of the text.

Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden.” The Walden Woods Project, The Walden Woods Project, www.walden.org/work/walden/.

Although Thoreau’s Walden is a memoir regarding a secluded trek to nature, his work strongly connects with short stories collections because of the book’s chronological organisation that mimics many collections of short stories’ progression (and especially the progression of vignettes). As Thoreau’s time in the woods increases with each passing chapter, the plot grows. The weather around Thoreau is constantly shifting, allowing Thoreau to progress his story based on the changing seasons, thus creating a naturally flowing text. Thoreau’s observations of both the self and the environment are described in an effective manner through descriptive details and imagery, allowing the reader to conveniently visualise the setting and almost vicariously live his experiences. This vicarious living is crucial to creating a compelling plot that the reader can connect with.

One thought to “The Nonfiction (But Also Fiction) Short Story Collection”

  1. Hey Alex!

    This is a fascinating genre (or mixup of genres) you’ve chosen! It seems challenging but intriguing at the same time. The crossing of genres affords you many potential avenues for exploration. I wonder how you intend to use non-fiction and fiction to balance each other out. What would underlie your choice behind making one aspect fiction, and one aspect non-fiction?

    The idea of “power as a whole, yet independence as an individual” is something I agree truly makes for a strong collection. How do you intend for the non-fiction parts to relate to the fiction parts? Will they be clearly distinct? Or seamlessly blended? I think there is huge potential either way 🙂 The Thoreau could be an interesting model, where his experential descriptions could be like what you do with the fictional stories, but his observations of the self and environment (are these like interspersed meditations?) could be areas where you insert non-fictional anecdotes/explanations to build on the fictional aspects. This could be really compelling! Looking forward to what you have in store!

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