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.

My Capstone Project Is…

A fictional short story!

 

It revolves around a high school soccer team and an collision that lands the goalkeeper, Jackson, in a comma during the semi-final state championship game. The story is not really about Jackson or his recovery, but rather about the way it affects the two most important people in his life: his best friend on the team, Nathan, and his mom (name TBD). The story explores the controlling power of sports which leaves the characters confused, frustrated, and desperate to understand why they love the sport so much and keep going back to it even though it’s the reason for the horrible injury and their sadness.

That, I realize, was quite a dramatic description. But dramatic is what I’m going for, so now the only issue will be translating all of these powerful struggles and messages I have in my head into a genre I am completely unfamiliar with. I’ve never been a huge reader and certainly never written fiction so this project choice is definitely a stretch for me. Yet at the same time, I realize that at this point in my life it’s up to me to push myself to explore new genres of writing. English 325 was a huge turning point  in terms of writing something besides academic assignments like research papers or critical analyses so I hope that a fictional story will be the perfect cap to this new appreciation and exploration of creative writing.

In terms of a model, I’ve been looking into anthologies like “Sports Best Short Stories” but still don’t feel like I’ve landed exactly on the model I’m looking for. Anyone have any thoughts?

Overall I’m certainly “dreaming big” with this project. In reality… I have no idea how close to my original vision it will actually be. I’ve already learned that there are many intricacies to short stories that make them very different than a novel or tv show, which is where I originally drew much of my inspiration. So, if anyone likes to write short stories and has experience with fiction writing I’d love to hear from you about any strategies (early planning, plot and character creation, drafting, revising, etc) you’ve used!

I’m not a fiction writer

The cool, collected academic narrative is my forte. I can produce a five-page paper on the biological competition between invasive Asian carp and native species of fish in the Great Lakes without breaking a sweat. But when I’m asked to write creatively without a specific prompt or concrete guidelines, my mind goes as blank as the paper in front of me.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the words “fiction” and “horror” appear seemingly by their own volition at the top of my repurposing proposal. The truth is that the idea of writing a chapter in my own imagined horror novella excites me, but I have no idea how to begin. So I turned to the master of horror himself for help.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128239303

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of bad writing.”

So writes the notorious Stephen King in his book on creating works of fiction/prose. I found a lot of truth in this sentence. It’s easy to settle into the comfort of writing academically because you really aren’t putting very much of yourself on the page; when it’s evaluated, it is only the writing being critiqued, not you. But writing creatively, as King describes, requires all of you, one hundred percent, and you can’t half-ass it because you’re afraid it will be bad (because then it will be bad).

I found that replacing all the aforementioned hypothetical “you’s” with “I’s” and “me’s” yields a pretty decent pep-talk for embarking on a project such as the one I’ve taken on.

King intended this book,  On Writing, to be not so much an overarching, presumptuous mandate that every prospective writer must blindly follow (there are already plenty of those already, he writes), but rather more akin to the subtitle he chose for the book; “A Memoir of the Craft”. That is exactly what he accomplished. The book is saturated with the anectdotes and experiences that he himself has had with writing, or simply those that in retrospect were fundamental to his development as a writer. With this book, he deconstructs the fairytale of Stephen King the Bestseller, revealing the every day person underneath that writes because he loves to, and struggles with it sometimes – just like anyone else.

I gathered a lot of valuable insight from reading On Writing, and it has been a tremendous help to the development of my project, which I plan to shape in the image of his writing style. Here is on of my favorite chunks of the book that I hope can help you, too:

“I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.”

Sweetland Writing Center

Last week, I went to my first appointment with a Sweetland counselor and found it very, very helpful.

Instead of jumping straight into my pieces, we talked a long time about background, the purpose of the assignment, and where I was coming from. Only after that did we begin to go over the pieces, in which he pushed me to think of all the different possibilities that a story could present. Wanting to turn my memoirs into fiction, he showed me ways the story could develop and allowed me to question myself on how much I wanted to develop it in certain directions.

He also gave an incredible tip in setting up characters. I was finding it difficult to write in new tones or voices, and he said sometimes that is most true for particular characters in a story. As a suggestion, he recommended basing those characters off someone in my life that I was very familiar with, someone who’s personality I understood quite well, and to use their thought process for my characters, allowing creativity to make its own changes. This was a way to build distance between me and my writing and to allow for the opportunity of multiple voices from one author.

The appointment allowed me to go back and revise my stories, radically, again. I think this repurposing assignment has been the single assignment where I’ve done such comprehensive, completely new revisions every time. My stories come out looking almost heads over tails new, but somehow, I’m not upset that it’s changed so much, rather, excited that I can see it becoming more well-rounded and can only hope that the development continues.

Well, this is Scary

Okay, so does anyone else feel like throwing up (in a good way maybe?) when they think about this project? I really hope I’m not alone on this one, because this project is scary.

Anyway, here are the 3 ideas I copied from the email I sent Ray last Thursday night:

1)   Exploration of New and Social Media as a “playground” for fiction writers (I’m particularly interested in supernatural horror fiction and “strange tales.” Research could lead to a number of projects, but I’m thinking of a fiction piece that would be designed similar to a viral marketing campaign or something similar that makes use of a variety of media and modes of transmission.

2)   Riffing off the theme of supernatural/horror/speculative fiction, criticism has been made about the lack of a monster that resonates with contemporary audiences: we keep appropriating monsters from the historical past (ghosts, demons, vampires, zombies, etc.) rather than creating ones of our own, that belong to our present. So, what would it take to for a monster to have the same cultural impact as the aforementioned enjoyed? What would this creature (is it even a creature?) look like? Why would it engender fear on a widespread, cultural level? What societal anxiety would it speak to, and to paraphrase Jeffrey Cohen’s 7th thesis on monsters and culture, what would it say about us? These questions could drive research that would culminate in an academic paper or maybe even a piece of fiction

3)   Working again from the idea of new modes of fiction production, it may be really rewarding and interesting to try to conceptualize, design, and potentially even implement a sort of magazine or ezine (or maybe even a hybrid) for writers experiment with new methods of narration and storytelling to submit and publish their works. Maybe a generalist approach would work for this, or maybe I could even narrow it to a particular genre or type of experimental writing (likely horror or spec fic related).

Now, I’ll come right out and say that I crapped out that third idea because we had to have a third idea. Fortunately, in the shower on Friday before class, I remember I really enjoy gaming in all of its forms (board/card/video/mobile/flash/whatever) and that got me thinking that maybe I could do something with games related to idea 1, and I think I mentioned this in class already. So this is where I’m currently at with my conception of the project, and it’s admittedly vague.

To simply what’s going on in idea 1, I’m interested in the ways we can use things like New Media or non-traditional media (like board and card games) to tell stories in ways that haven’t really been explored that much, in ways that force a reader to change how he or she reads and experiences a work of fiction, that is specific to the medium or various media an artist/writer/developer/designer constructs for him/her. While people have written flash fiction with the help of Twitter, for example, the endeavors I’ve happened across have felt forced or gimmicky, and I think this is because these writers are trying to adapt social media to the ways the already know how to write. This makes perfect sense and I don’t begrudge them for doing things they way they tried. But I’m interested in how these new and rarely explored avenues can shape the way we write and more importantly, tell and experience stories. I want to create something like Ted’s Caving Journal (which will terrify and anger you should you choose to read), or  Journey, or Marble Hornets does.

This is where project 4 (also known as shower project) works its way into the post:  I would like to look at some successful (and not so successful) attempts to create these news ways of telling stories, and perhaps design a story of my own. I foresee a number of challenges that come along with this project, including but not limited to technology and personal learning curve limitations, available time to commit to the project, the issue of creating a convincing story and then presenting it in a convincing medium, avoiding gimmicks and other negative buzzwords that rear their heads in scathing reviews of bad movies/music/tv/anything/everything, etc. It may even be possible for me to work bits and pieces of idea 2 into this project; a monster story where the medium is the monster could be an interesting (the more I write the more pretentious this gets) way to approach the “story” of the project. Who knows? Gotta start somewhere. At the end of the day though, I’m interested in the intersection of narration, reader experience, story, and new and non-traditional media.

For me personally, being able to design, write, implement, and publish a horror story through something like a cooperative/collaborative flash or mobile phone game that makes use of a variety of media to not just help the story move along, but to create the entire experience, would be a really cool way to end this minor and my time at Michigan; it would combine some of the most important experiences and thoughts I’ve had in these last four years into what I could honestly say would be a capstone. In retrospect,  every step I’ve taken in my long, winding, and oft frustrating journey through my undergraduate education has pointed me toward this project.  But that doesn’t make the idea any less terrifying. I’m happy with the seeds of ideas I have here, but anything anyone can add to help them grow would be greatly appreciated.