By Limor Shiponi
Short stories are present everywhere now – in books, on the web, calendars, greeting cards – just look around. Many people love them – they make you stop and think for a minute, smile to yourself or think “hmmm.”
But when it comes to using them as stories to tell – many don’t. Rather often I hear this remark from people “they are too short, not enough a plot worth opening your mouth for.” Well, I’ve been observing people who do tell very short stories. They don’t really tell them as short as they are written. First of all, something has to ignite the decision to tell them. There is a thought behind this decision and this thought is usually connected to the need to say something you want the other person to observe from another perspective. It’s like telling a proverb but you don’t have to use the exact wording in a short story.
So I see these very short stories as gems – they are lovely to look at and they reflect what you put them next to. And you don’t have to see yourself directly like in a mirror.
When I tell a very short story I take the freedom to elaborate, to prepare the listener, to reflect, to allow time for silence after the story but I try not to suffocate the gem with it’s pendant.
4 thoughts on “Storytelling gems”
There are two things that drive me crazy about short stories I find on the Web, or in my emails:
1) most of them are extremely sentimental;
2) most of them skip attribution (for example, the story of the Star Thrower (the man on the beach throwing starfish back into the surf) is the creation of Loren Eisley, but it is rarely attributed to him… even Margaret Read MacDonald, normally a thorough scholar when it comes to folklore, omitted his name when she included it in her “Three Minute Stories.”
I can see how some of these syrupy, sentimental stories could be cleaned up and crafted into a good oral tale. Do you find you have to do a lot of re-working?
Some of them are really sticky aren’t they.. I had an interesting incident about this some time ago. Know the story about the person who met an old woman by a river bank and asked her for something to eat? She tells him he can open her bag and whatever he finds there that will please his hunger he is welcome to take. Works out there is some food there and a huge diamond. He asks her if he can take whatever he needs and with her permissoin takes the diamond. Eventually he comes back asking for something else – for that thing that allowed her from inside to give him the diamond.
Well, the story ends there and it obviously elicits a big “oooohhhh” from any audience. Well, we were discussing this story and I said that when I perform it I add another sentance to the end – “The woman said ‘You what to have that which allowed me to give you the diamond.’ She extended her hand to him and added ‘so give it to me..'”
Most of the storytellers in the discussion felt uncomfortable about this addition. One of them claimed ‘I like the original version better. Your’s requires a high level of abstraction.’ This is something to think about – why would most of us prefare to feed the audience with sentimental baby food?
When I teach very short stories I ask my students to tell me the story about how this (the short story) has become. Naturally they expand the narrative. If you try the same story with a group of 20 tellers you’ll get fabulous ideas and bits of very different narratives. We do this only in telling – talking, not writing, so it is not really a matter of a lot of work but of telling and retelling in various ways and to different people until their tales expand and they truly own them.
I didn’t know the star thrower is attributed to Loren Eisley so thanks about that too.
An analysis of the many versions of the Star Thrower, at “The Pilfered Parable”: http://www-museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/Eiseley/Anderson/index.html
Thanks for this link Tim!