I would like to introduce my special guest today, Sybil Baker. I’m her last stop on the WOW blog tour. You can catch all the previous tours by visiting Wow-Women on Writing.
Sybil will be giving away a copy of her book here, so be sure to drop in and say hello and ask her any questions you might have.
About the Author:
Sybil has always had wandering feet. First, she left her hometown in northern Virginia for Boulder where she completed her Master’s in English at the University of Colorado. She eventually moved back to Virginia but soon the wandering bug bit her again. This time she spent twelve years teaching English in South Korea and traveling the world. So far she has checked off over 30 countries, many in Asia. Her path did lead back to the United States where she received her MFA at The Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2005 and began teaching creative writing at the University of Tennessee in 2007. These days she satisfies her wanderlust by writing about exotic locales from the Chattanooga home she shares with her husband.
Just Thought You Should Know:
Sybil is also the author of a novel The Life Plan. You can learn more about The Life Plan and its WOW Blog Tour at http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2009/03/sybil-baker-author-of-life-plan.html
Novels vs. Short Stories
When you start a new project, do you know if it will be a novel, short story or essay? Do you start out with a specific genre in mind for your piece, or do you start writing and see where the piece will take you?
When I have an idea or an image for a new piece, I usually know if it’s going to be a short story, novel, or an essay. Essays spring from some experience that I believe works better as nonfiction—they explicitly explore ideas and events that I don’t want to fictionalize. Short stories usually come from a character or conflict that I see as focusing on one event or issue—what Poe calls the unity of effect or impression. When I have a character whose journey will be layered and long, then I have a novel.
I recently finished the draft of a novel about two sisters and the secrets they discover about their family. The multiple plot lines and complexity of their relationship could not be covered in a short story. On the other hand, I recently finished a story about a young woman in a bar with her new boyfriend—that event and her conflict was much more focused and worked best as a short story.
The exception for me was Talismans, which is a linked short story collection and reads more like a novel through stories. When I wrote the first story (“Fur Elise”) many years ago, I thought the main character Elise would exist only in that story. But then a few years later I wrote a story about a woman who in Korea and falls in love with a Korean man. When I finished that story, I realized that the woman was Elise. I wanted to learn more about Elise—how did she get to Korea, and what else happened with her relationships with her mother and father? I wrote more stories to discover those answers. After a few years, , I had a collection of ten stories that followed Elise’s physical and emotional journey across many years. At that point, I could have taken the stories and rewritten them as a novel, but for some reason Elise’s life as seen through the stories worked better for me. I think the linked stories—connected yet separate, work best because Elise also felt so disconnected and fragmented. The linked story form best reflects Elise’s world.
Linked short story collections must work as stand-alone pieces and must also work as part of a larger narrative arc. This is not easy. I spent a lot of time revising the stories so that the images and conflicts in the first story would echo and build through the collection. I also made sure that the last story resolved in some matter the conflicts in the first story.
When you’re writing a short story or a novel or an essay, occasionally step back and ask yourself if you’re working in the right form for your piece. Maybe the novel needs to be compressed or distilled, or maybe a short story has too many elements and needs to open up. Maybe your fiction piece is best served as a creative nonfiction piece. Be aware of the constraints and possibilities of the genre you’re working in, and allow your piece to become what it needs to be.
Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Sybil Baker’s book Talismans