The best place to start this blog lark is with a quick explanation of its title - why 'Scallops'?  
It came to me in a dream:  short stories are like scallops!  Similes and metaphors don't usually come to me in my sleep, I wish they did,  but on this occasion  I had watched rather too much of Hell's Kitchen before bedtime.  At some point, the wannabe chefs had competed to free perfect scallops from the gelatinous mass inside the shells. Craggy-faced Gordon was not pleased if any scallops had been spoiled in the process which, of course, most were.

A short story should also be small and perfectly formed:  it is the result of the skillful cutting down of a large, slippery concept in to a small, firm morsel of art.  As a writer still learning her craft, I know how easy it is to mutilate a good short story.  But I am hoping I'll get better with practice and - fingers crossed - that'll happen before my face turns too craggy...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

End Game

While researching potential publishers of my stuff, I came across this from Comma Press:  "Short stories are all about their endings.  A short story IS an ending."  

This was not a pleasant revelation after having redrafted the ending to my story Boxed In for the sixth time...

I've always had a problem with endings.  And not only my own.  I am disappointed, at least 50% of the time, in the way films, novels and short stories are concluded.  A bad ending can make you feel manipulated, patronised, cheated or even angry (which is nearly always the case in book to screen adaptations) and a bad ending can undo all the joy you felt for 90% of the viewing or reading experience.  

But endings are so bloody hard.  

My own opinion is that the short story ending is to be satisfying but unfinished - an etiquette similar to the consumption of a posh meal.  A story will be effective and impressionable if it leaves the reader salivating for a little more.  But getting the right balance between starvation and over indulgence is tricky, at least for me.

As for Comma Press, on reflection, I disagree with the second part of its statement.  A short story could also be a beginning or a middle too, but only if you see a short story as being a scene lifted from a longer story.   I don't (and I don't think Comma does either - I've merely interpreted their statement out of context as a means to an end, so to speak).  The short story, at its most powerful, is an entity in its own right that should be allowed to float free of an inferred linear narrative.  If more people could enjoy shorts this way, perhaps they would be less niche.

The first part of Comma's statement, however, I agree with.  Now excuse me while I get on with draft seven...


  1. Enjoyable post. I agree that the short story seems underappreciated lately. At her recent reading in Berkeley, author Amy Bloom expressed her bemusement about her publishers subheading her new book 'Where the God of Love Hangs Out' with the word 'Fiction' instead of 'Short Stories', to seem closer to 'A Novel'.

    Hopefully you can be part of a whole new wave that rebrands the short story collection as the chic new must-have for any contemporary reader.

  2. Short films are very similar in nature. I have often felt that the ending, the "button," needs to be the strongest part, like the butt of a joke. All very stressful, because there is so little time to build that perfect ending which will bring a laugh, a tear, or even a thoughtful, "hmm."