In the last few days I've come to a conclusion about the short stories I occasionally have a stab at. Although I like taking on deeper themes and grey areas of society, my short stories seem to work best when they have a bizarre edge to them. To quote one of my undergraduate lecturers, I'm indulging the whimsy in my soul, as writers have done for generations.
The world is a mad place. Our job as writers can involve informing our readers about the intricacies of it, or simply entertaining them with a snapshot of life that they'll recognise. As with all fiction, situations and characters can be exaggerated for enhanced effects. In short stories, particularly, you have limited space to tell your tale. Sometimes the only way to get your point across is to amplify people and plot (but beware that line between exaggeration and caricature!). I've discovered that my particular method of amplification occasionally involves a touch of the whimsical.
'Whimsy' is defined as 'capricious humour or disposition' or 'an odd and fanciful notion'. A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to be short-listed in a competition and subsequently published in their anthology of best entries. The task was to link five pictures together in 1200 words or less. I remember sitting in a Victorian Literature seminar when I should've been participating and instead jotting down various scenarios in my notebook. All my ideas were crazy but eventually I chose to run with one of them.
The result? A story that encapsulates the loss of an engagement ring, a petrol-station robbery and a sealed building, all in order to get to a wedding. When I was writing it I thought it was absolutely mad and it probably was. However, I enjoyed writing it and it seems the judges enjoyed reading it.
Recently, I've been embracing the whimsical again. I've got two short stories that are a wee bit crazy and that I absolutely love. Both have a semi-serious point but it's snuggled up in rather bizarre events that, on the face of it, are very implausible. Maybe they are but I'm hoping the brief exploration of character I'm able to indulge in can explain some things.
But the key point is, I'm enjoying writing again. Sometimes we can get bogged down with the technical nature of the craft or what other people want to read or whether the word on page 70, line 8 is satisfactory. Even if these short stories languish in my drawer for eternity, at least I've had fun writing them.
(Anyone interested in that anthology which had some cracking stories in, it's still available on Amazon.)