Birthing Short Stories

Birthing Short Stories

Posted on January 22 by Russell Wangersky
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Almost every short story I write starts the same way: I hear a snatch of a sentence, see a small situation unfold, and wonder what would happen next. A man in his twenties brings his new girlfriend to a bar, and runs into his old girlfriend in a space packed so tight, they have no choice but to be shoulder to shoulder.

I get to overhear this small snippet at the beginning: “Hey. Have you met Lauren? This is Lauren.” “Hi, I’m Lauren.”

First, there’s the unintentional, almost haiku of that rushed, forced little collection of words: then, there’s the sheer wonder of all the different directions the next few minutes might take.

Where they actually went hardly matters: I’m not sure I even paid close attention after that. What did happen matters far less than what could.

When I was putting together my short story collection Whirl Away, I had a group of stories that developed that way, but also had a unifying theme: each story, in its own way, looked at people who had developed particular coping strategies, skills they used to get through difficult circumstances. I found that for all of them, the characters were lost in a sudden sort of freefall because they lost those strategies — either they lost the skill, or else it simply didn’t work any more. Everyone left spinning, unable to gain the traction they needed to move ahead — characters that whirled, like dervishes but without the enlightenment. It was that I set out deliberately to put them into that position: I think that the characters showed me the way.

It is, I admit, a strange way to work: find a circumstance, create characters, and then have those characters run in the direction that their personalities insist that they must. They go where they do. I’m just along for the ride.

“Have you met Lauren? This is Lauren.”

“Hi, I’m Lauren.”

I haven’t written that story yet, but I can feel the gentle tug of its tide already.

Russell Wangersky

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
Russell Wangersky photo

Russell Wangersky

Russell Wangersky's most recent book,The Glass Harmonica, won the 2010 BMO Winterset Award and was longlisted for the Relit Awards. His previous book, Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself won Canada's largest non-fiction prize, the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Wangersky lives and works in St. John's, where he is an editor and columnist with the St. John's Telegram.