Monday 5 May 2014

Short Story Competitions: Fixated on Anecdote

 At a recent workshop a writer told me that she’d had a story rejected with the comment that it was merely an anecdote. In our recent podcasted discussion (see below) Avril Joy said to me that one problem was that some writers were fixated on anecdote.

This made me think. I suppose it all depends on what we mean by ‘story’.

We all live inside a web of stories. We learn our family histories going back more  than two generations through the stories that come down to us. This will weave its way into our fiction whether we do it consciously or not. I discovered this when I sat down to write my memoir The Romancer and discovered in retrospect that I could trace many of the themes and  much of the texture of  my novels in story- or anecdote -driven  elements of my own life.

Such stories from life might well be labelled anecdote. I call these fireside stories and would link them with fairy stories and spoken sagas coming down through history.  I feel it is natural that writers, when they begin and cast around for a ‘story’, will make use of such anecdotes – and quite right too.

However when we are writing a story that will stand alone as true fiction, the familiar anecdote can only stand as one element, as one strand of certainty which might give the fiction authenticity.

Our story becomes literature, it becomes fiction, when we take liberties with it, when we play about with the probabilities, when we invest it with imaginative insight and set our fantasies flying.

It becomes fiction when we strive to meet the challenge of finding the precise, right words to express the action, the setting and the atmosphere of this new story which will take wings and make for the writer and the reader a new literary reality.

It becomes fiction when we shape it with elegance, when the story arc is taut and true. Interestingly enough part of that truth can be the anecdote - the fireside story - that first inspired the writer to take the leap into fiction.

Having just launched our Room To Write Short Story Competition we are hoping the some of the entries will be taut and true and the same time great fiction.

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