Chekhov, no twist!

I’ve been reading a collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov, and am enjoying it immensely. His characters are so bright and clear and amped-up that you can’t help but love or hate them. But more than any of that, I absolutely love the lack of twist endings in his stories.

Anton Chekhov, if you’re not familiar, wrote in the 1880’s and 1890’s, and is considered by many to be the ‘father’ of the short story. And I have to say, I prefer him to most of his offspring. It is hard to describe how refreshing it is to read a story that doesn’t try to rip the rug out from under me in the last sentence every. single. time. A story that says what it’s trying to say, and then ends, without having to manufacture a shock that turns everything you just read on its head, or somehow reverses the meaning of something important. Instead, I get to the end, and it’s over. His stories are not all preamble to some endorphin-triggering key word. They are not just a fuse leading to an explosion. They are enjoyable for themselves.

After reading Chekhov’s stories, I became very aware that today’s short stories, at least in the non-literary genres, are basically distilled twist. If there is not some shock or surprising reveal or reversal at the end, then what is the point of writing it? I fear, is what people think. Well the point, like any writing, is to make someone feel or think or identify or understand something. And there are plenty of things other than surprise that a story can make you feel.

I am learning a lot from these stories, and this is definitely going to affect my own writing in the future. I heavily recommend reading Chekhov to anyone who wants to write short stories!

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Lucent Dreaming, issue 1

It’s now up on the website for free! Why haven’t I mentioned this earlier? I don’t know…

check it out here!

Issue 1

and preorder issue 2 while you’re at it!

Welcome to Lucent Dreaming

The effects of formatting

I’ve been reading Satantango by László Krasznahorkai, and it is formatted in an unusual way, in that it is basically a wall of text with no paragraph breaks. While this sounds odd, and annoying to read (it was at first) it gives the words a kind of overwhelmingness, and endless pressure and urgency that really adds to the story.

It’s interesting that the shape of the words can be such a big part of storytelling. The decision to leave out all paragraph breaks, even between dialogue, almost makes you feel trapped inside the text, just like the characters are trapped in the town in the story. The author also uses very long sentences, which makes it hard to stop reading, as if you’re just being dragged along against your will.

What other kinds of text effects do authors use?

give it away

I haven’t sold a story in over 5 years, and I’d like to think that I’ve improved in those 5 years… so that leads me to believe that even if my writing is technically better, I must not be writing what sells.

I thought for a minute that I’d better find out what sells, and try to write that. So I read some recent stories published in places that I regularly submit to, and found that I can’t stand them and would be embarrassed to have written them.

So… what does it all mean? In order to be published in the well-paying magazines, I have to write something with a broad appeal… But I don’t really like things with broad appeal… so, I probably should stop submitting to these places. Which I have.

As of now I’m exclusively submitting my stories to nonpaying markets. Because… socialism? And also because places that aren’t trying to make money might actually want to publish something they like, instead of something they are worried about other people liking.

Version two of this blog post:

No one wants to publish my writing so I’m going to tell myself it’s because I’m just too good for this world, and somehow turn this into a positive for myself.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This fantastical little story was my first experience with Gaiman, and it wasn’t a super good one for me.

The story is about a middle aged man who, after attending a funeral, goes back to his childhood home to walk around and remember stuff. The rest of the book is him remembering some crazy things that happened when he was 7.

This post contains spoilers.

My first problem was with the writing. Reviewers consistently call this beautifully written, but I found the prose somewhat annoying. The author stubbornly refuses to use contractions, and insists on using the characters full names (Letty Hempstock did this, Letty Hempstock said that) every time they are mentioned. This may be in an effort to give the prose a childlike, fairytale feel, or maybe it’s just to inflate the word count of this already very short book.

Another problem was with the way the story is framed. When you start with an older man remembering his past, the story can’t be held up by tense action, since we know the character is remembering all this from far in the future, so everything is obviously going to be okay. I assumed the viewpoint would be going back and forth between memory and present day, and that the character’s recollection of the strange things that happened to him as a child would affect his present life and help him get over the death, or help him decide some hard choice. But the book was all just one big memory, with a little bit of an epilogue to make it not a completely pointless story.

And the story did seem to be pointless. The character (an obvious self insert) did not change or learn anything, in fact after the story is over he immediately forgot everything again (and since the story is told in first person this is a bit of fourth wall breaking confusion). There is no arc, the character doesn’t make any sacrifices or change himself or learn anything about himself in any way.

The best part of the story was when the character (who is never named, and though this is done better than most books, it is still annoying) is trying to escape his new nanny/babysitter, Ursula Monkton (never Ursula, never Miss Monkton, always Ursula Monkton) who is terrible and also a manifestation of some kind of demon or otherworldly creature. It is exciting and intense, despite us knowing that since this is a memory, everything obviously turns out okay.

But even that escape was not done by the character. He gets in a bind and is saved by the neighbor girl Letty, who just happens to be some kind of diety(?)

Maybe it’s just me, but most of these fantastical stories, I just have a real hard time caring. When anything can happen at any moment, it’s hard for any of it to have any weight or meaning. I would probably have enjoyed this story a lot more if it had been told from Letty’s point of view, since she was the one who took action and made a sacrifice and changed.

To sum up this novel, its about a guy who had some weird dreams when he was seven, remembered them for a minute when he was older, then forgot them again.

 

 

A clear idea of right and wrong

I’ve been listening to Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy, my first Tolstoy, and am enjoying the lack of moral relativism. It’s somehow refreshing to have a narrator with a clear opinion of what is evil and what is good, and a character who also knows this and is trying to be good. All the shades of grey in current fiction, though realistic, leave a bit to be desired as far as inspiration goes.

The story is about a nobleman in 188x, Nekhlyudov, who is on a jury, and sees that one of the accused is a woman he was in love with, and wronged, in his youth. She has since become a prostitute, and he blames himself and the way he treated her for her decline over the years. After at first wanting to ignore the situation, he decides he wants to ask her forgiveness, and help her, and do anything he can to make it right, he will even, he thinks, go so far as to marry her.

The drive to do good, and make things right, and make up for a past error are appealing in a character. And its sort of a spark of light among all the antiheros of the day.

We’ll see where it goes, though, I’m only at the start…

how ‘the customer is always right’ culture is ruining our society

Happy May Day! Workers’ rights are important, and are ignored quite a bit in this capitalistic country (one of the few countries that doesn’t have May Day as a day off for workers… quite ironic.)

Here, it seems, even workers treat other workers like crap. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are bad people, but because they’ve been trained to be assholes by this ‘customer is always right’ idea.

Imagine going out to eat, and always being given your food free if you complain and yell about it enough. Imagine getting pulled to the front of the line if you scream and make a fuss. Imagine being apologized to profusely and groveled before if you howl and threaten convincingly enough—this is the state of customer service in America. He who screams and yells the loudest is given the quickest, best service.

It’s not hard to imagine this spreading to other, non-consumer areas of society. After being trained for their entire lives that yelling gets you your way, why shouldn’t someone take this strategy home, and yell at their wife or kids? Or at someone online in an argument? Or any other area of life?

We’ve trained people to be assholes by rewarding them for shitty behavior, at the cost of our workers’ sanity. It has to stop!

No one should be given a free meal for yelling and treating the server like shit, they should be thrown out and banned from the restaurant. They should not get to talk to the supervisor before everyone else in line because they started screaming, they should be thrown out and not allowed back in. People need to learn to behave civilly if they want to be helped and served by another human being.

But until we stop worshiping the dollar above all else, no company will change their ‘customer is always right’ policy–which translated, is really ‘the dollar is always right.’

Even more right than the rights of your workers to be treated like a human being.