Monday, July 11, 2005

The Shatter Manifesto

Note added 8/13/05. Lots of folks read this post without knowing me or being familiar with my blog. Guess what: they get the wrong idea about me. A great deal of this seems to hinge on the word 'Manifesto'. I'm a humorist. I liked the word 'Manifesto' precisely because it is so fatuous, overblown, and arrogant. The word tickles me. Unfortunately, some folks come over here and assume I am fatuous, overblown, and arrogant. Well, maybe I am. On the other hand, perhaps you don't understand my sense of humor, or perhaps I'm a crappy humorist. All I ask is that you consider these competing hypotheses. Back to the, erm, Manifesto.
Now that I'm writing occasional reviews for Tangent, I have a decision to make. When faced with a story I don't like, I can (A) write an honest review, or (B) write one of these:
In summary, if you're the kind of reader who enjoys impenetrable plots, artificially amped drama, liberal use of italics (and exclamation points!!!), unbelievable characters, and inconclusive endings, then you'll absolutely love Farley Turgid's "Overdrawn at the Sperm Bank".
Rereading this, I realize I may have strained the point with my hyperbole. The more common manifestation of this syndrome goes like this:
So if you crave axe-wielding Nordic demigods who speak in Ye Olde English whilst bedding fair naiads in between time travel jaunts to Edwardian England and Imperial Rome, you'll absolutely love Farley Turgid's "Not Without My Loki".
In both examples, the reviewer is trying to put a positive spin on things. But, I'm sorry. I can't do it. I know what I like, and I'm opinionated enough to tell people about it. I promise I'll try to find something good in every story, but sometimes it's damned difficult. Does that mean it's a bad story? No. (Well, maybe. Eventually, a consensus opinion may emerge.) It only means I didn't like it. Does anyone think a reviewer's opinion is anyone's but his own? In An Open Letter to My Victims, I have responded to those present and future authors whose babes I have spat upon. Here, I intend to discuss what I consider a good short story*.
The Shatter Manifesto
A good short story
  • entertains
  • puts the story first
  • makes me think
  • makes me feel
Let's take 'em one at a time. I'm talking to you, the author. A good short story entertains. I can forgive a lot, and I mean a LOT, if I have fun while reading the story. Is the story interesting? Amusing? Exciting? If you hold my interest, make me want more, and don't disappoint me in the ending, I don't really care if your writing doesn't sparkle. The editor in me may nitpick, but the reader (and reviewer) will cheer. A good short story puts the story first. That means it's about the story -- not about you, the author. I'm not interested in your feats of writerly legerdemain. Because it's about the story, remember? We're storytellers. Let me put it another way: anything that pulls me out of the story and makes me think about you is a bad thing. A good short story makes me think. . . . About my values, my life, my loved ones, my world. Not, by the way, about the mechanics of the story ('Now, who is that character? What just happened? Why did he say that? Who said that?'). I don't mind putting some thought into the bones of a story, but I shouldn't have to study it to get the point. A good short story makes me feel. Mind you, this is an open-ended requirement. The feeling might be awe, amusement, sadness, regret -- you name it. But your story should make me feel something. Do you have to satisfy all four criteria? No, only one; but in my experience, if you've nailed one, you've nailed them all. By the way. I had originally intended to have a fifth criteria: "A good short story should make sense." But I read a story today in Brutarian ("Horns", by Megan Crewe) which didn't quite make sense to me. I can guess what the story means, but I wouldn't swear I have the right take on it. And yet I enjoyed it -- it fulfilled each and every one of the above criteria. Perhaps that's how it is with poetic fiction. (Good poetic fiction.) It works at a sub-rational level; it doesn't have to make sense. D. *Look at the words: What I consider a good short story. As in, MY opinion. And even if I don't explicitly say so, it's still just my opinion.


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