The Reading And Writing Of Short Stories In Contemporary Times
The short story form of writing and storytelling manages to capture and entice the reader’s attention by making an impact in a few words. The beauty of this form lies in being able to tell a story in the most succinct manner, using words wisely and sparingly, leaving the readers in awe. However, the art of short story writing is at loggerheads with the commercial aspects of publishing and creating readability among audiences.
In this context, Women Writer’s Fest by SheThePeople.TV hosted a panel on women writing short stories from their personal experiences. The panel featured speakers Sukanya Venkatraghavan a writer of fantasy fiction who has edited an anthology of short stories titled Magical Women and Kritika Pandey, the winner of 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The panel was moderated by author Koral Das Gupta.
Writing Short Stories that resonate
Writing short stories that resonate pose a challenge to writers because of the restrictions that are placed. Hence, doing justice to the story idea becomes as crucial as being able to contain ideas within the prescribed word limit. To this Sukanya adds, “I find writing short stories very difficult. I know when I am writing a short story I have to be really succinct, precise and that is the beauty of the short story.”
She reveals that she curated Magical Women because she wanted women to re-discover the magic within them. “Because we forget the world is hard yet there is so much beauty in it. And, we are told and shown constantly that we are not powerful enough.”
Krittika, on the other hand, says that she likes to delve into the emotional landscapes of the character and highlight their engagement with emotions at several levels. “In The Great Indian Tea and Snakes, for instance, the female protagonist was feeling things almost physiologically. There is something physical about the way she falls in love. I am very interested to explore aspects of the relationship with your emotions.”
Short Stories and the Power to Impact social change
Storytelling in any and every form has the power to create impact and drive social change. But can contemporary short story writers also write stories that convey powerful messages? What are the challenges that they face, in doing so? Sukanya opines that a story has to find its reader. “If bookstores and other spaces that sell books promote only one kind of books then the kind that could bring about change remains unreachable to the readers.”
According to Kritika, a big challenge for writers and even the publishing industry is that they are not able to reach out to people who are ready and eager to read the work. “I think the point about repetition is powerful because if something is repeated often enough it becomes the truth. So what we need to see is who is in power to repeat things and how can we make sure that these people repeat that we would like them to repeat. Only a certain set of people have social capital and visibility that would allow them to communicate certain ideas on a large platform.”
Short Story Writing through Genres
While genre serves the purpose of creating categories for commercial purposes, does it really help storytelling? As per Kritika, what’s important is telling stories and not confining yourself to the so-called limitations of reality. “I don’t believe in those limitations on an everyday basis. I really take inspiration from Kazuo Ishiguro, he has written so many different kinds of books and the books have their own genre.”
Sukanya further adds to this by speaking from her personal experience of writing and publishing, “I have been asked many times why don’t I write mytho-fiction, it will sell. It doesn’t matter for me when ideas form whether it is a genre-based story idea. It is not the job of a writer to worry about the genre of the story they are telling. We are storytellers and we are meant to sow seeds in the minds of the readers. Genrefication is probably the job of a publisher. The publisher should think about it probably because it will help to sell but not as an impediment. Right now it is an impediment.”
Sustaining as a Short Story Writer
Writing, any form and kind, is shrouded with romantic notions of being a writer and meeting an elusive muse. However, what is often not alluded to, is the difficulty in financially sustaining yourself as a writer. While there are novelists who have their occasional breakthrough, finding a popular short story writer is perhaps more difficult. “It’s ironic that something even needs to be said about our attention span which would mean that people would want to read short stories and shorter works. They want to finish something quickly. But the publishing industry doesn’t make it easier for a short story writer to be published or to even sustain themselves on their craft. So anyone who is looking to make a career as a short story writer should be aware that it is a little more difficult for short story writers to make their mark as writers,” says Kritika.
Getting Short Stories Published
While writing short stories might be difficult getting them published is fraught with difficulties as well. It demands absolute perfection from the writers while they are working on their drafts. Sukanya suggests that when a writer sends their first draft to a publisher they must make sure it is the best draft they could have given. “If possible hire an editor and ensure there are no mistakes. It’s best not to send your first draft in a hurry. Let your work breathe and come back to it after a few months and see what changes can be made,” says she, reminding writers that writing is a lot about re-writing.
Sukanya further emphasises in how crucial the process of obtaining feedback is and the need to find your own tribe who understand your writing. “Pick your people for feedback. Criticism is not personal and criticism should not feel like gaslighting. The feedback people are as important as the reader. Not everyone has the skill to give feedback.”
Priyanka Chakrabarty is an intern for SheThePeople.TV.