Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Jauss. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jauss. Show all posts

25 June, 2015

David Jauss, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Abstraction?: Modes of Conveying Emotion

Another great essay of 13 pages and 89 footnotes, in which Jauss discusses ways to convey emotions for the best possible outcome in fiction writing. It's a helpful article and he doesn't mind telling it like he sees or reads it. His section headings are in bold.

I. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. He talks about some of those pieces of advice, i.e., do not use abstractions, that one must not necessarily take wholeheartedly.

II. The Misuse of Abstractions. Sensory Bypasses. He shares some examples from his writing students where they've used shortcut abstractions instead of sensorial descriptions. He also shows where many very well known writers are guilty of this type of laziness. No one is immune. Then he discusses "Glosses" which may allude to body language but then interprets it for the reader.

III. Let's Get Physical: Body Language. Action is Eloquence. Most communication is through body language including "physiological and physio-chemical reactions."

Body Language and Individuation. "The best body language is not only revelatory but individuating..."

Mixing Body Language and Abstraction. This can be effective.

IV. Getting Physical Through Metaphor. Mixing Metaphor and Body Language. Mixing Metaphor and Abstraction. Metaphor and Particularization.

V. Conjoined Abstractions. Jauss gives some helpful examples here as well.

VI. Some Caveats.  "...abstractions can play a valid, and valuable, role in conveying emotion."

VII. Conclusion. "For scary though they be, abstractions can complement body language and metaphor and, sometimes, even take their place in ways that enrich the emotional experience of our readers."

This article was published in the May/Summer 2012 issue of The Writer's Chronicle.

18 May, 2013

David Jauss, "Homo Sapiens vs. Homo Fictus: Or Why a Lot of Knowledge can be a Dangerous Thing Too"

Jauss has written yet another wonderfully helpful essay for The Writer's Chronicle. And, I'm so happy to have read it because I've never really "believed" some of the writing advice in the many books I have about how to write stories stating that you must know everything about your characters before you even begin to write.

As usual, Jauss has many footnotes, 92 to be exact, and he makes his points clearly. Some of my favorite statements.

Jauss quotes from James Wood, "'Roundness' is impossible in fiction, because fictional characters, while very alive in their way, are not the same as real people."

"If compiling a list of traits and attributes isn't the way to create a character, what is? A more effective way, I'd argue, is to let the imagination supply the details as the needs of the story arise--and during the actual composition of the story, not in advance."

YAY, I agree. I've never compiled a list but have sometimes felt somewhat guilty that I wasn't doing it right. Rather, I build my characters as I watch them walk around doing things ignoring the activities that do not seem to matter and grabbing the motions, activities etc. that reveal or feel revealing or feel significant. Then when I, the writer, begin to focus on particularities then we walk together and the story starts to build. But I'm unpublished. So, there's my 2 cents.

Another favorite line. "The prescriptions we find in creative writing guides are belied by the actual practice of fiction writers, and it is that practice that I suggest we attend to."

And, "Interestingly, the most intriguing characters in literature don't know why they do what they do, and neither do we."

I think that is why the greatest stories are the ones that are never fully consumed. Every time we read them, we see different connections, etc. And, I believe, those are the stories that we still read because they are as complex as real people. No one to one relationship from desire / motivation to action. From Jauss, "What we don't understand is what makes him so fascinating."

Anyway, every writer should read this essay. It is in the March/April 2013 issue of The Writer's Chronicle.

27 March, 2013

David Jauss, "Homo Sapiens vs. Homo Fictus: Or Why a Lot of Knowledge Can Be a Dangerous Thing Too"

In the March/April 2013 issue of The Writer's Chronicle, David Jauss talks at length--and I'm thrilled he does--about how many traits we as writers should  or shouldn't delineate to build our fictional characters. I'm so thrilled whenever I find something written by an extremely knowledgeable person that substantiates my practice.

Jauss writes, "If compiling a list of traits and attributes isn't the way to create a character, what is? A more effective way, I'd argue, is to let the imagination supply the details as the needs of the story arise--and during the actual composition of the story, not in advance."

And, as it is said, fiction writers must know their characters' motivations but just as in real life, we never completely understand peoples' motivations.

Another quote, "The advice-givers are not only certain that understanding motivation is essential, they're also certain what it is: desire."

"Making a character's desire singular, fixed and unique is exactly the sort of simplification that reduces the character's realism."

Some characters and people never really know what they want. "Interestingly, the most intriguing characters in literature don't know why they do what they do, and neither do we."

I would posit that this mystery of motivations and desires is one of the things that allows or encourages or begs us to read the same stories over and over. If a story were completely consumed on one reading, the only reason to read it again would be for the beauty of the language itself but not the story. Also, I think that's why short stories are not necessarily the easiest thing to read, sometimes. The reader needs to bring quite a bit to the table.

The Writer's Chronicle web page
David Jauss's web page

03 September, 2012

David Jauss, "Blizzards"

This story of grief and memory is touching without being overly sentimental. It explores a man's life and the way in which he grieved the loss of his fiancé when he was young and now his own daughters are about the age Abby was when she was killed. The reason for the story now is that he has promised his wife, Sarah, that they will travel through his home town on the way to her parents' house. She expressed to him that he needed to face his "ghosts." And, the event that haunts him most is not Abby's death but his own brush, even though he says he had no intention of dying, eight months after her funeral.

In the course of the story, Joe recalls his grief and we see how that grief caused him to put his own life in danger. However, the peace he thought he would find at that moment when a person freezes to death did not come, so he rose, stomped and rubbed his hands together and returned home.

Joe does come to the realization that Abby is indeed an old friend and his feelings for her and about her have aged and developed. "And I realize that she's right, that that's what Abby has become after all these years--an old friend."

"It seemed odd that something so white could make the world seem darker."

"But now that I'm older than they were, I know that age has less to do with time than it does with grief."

"The thought of her lying in the frozen earth, wearing only that thin blue dress, made the world seem colder."

This is a great visual in the story. "...I saw the backhoe parked behind it. Someone had tried to cover it with an olive-drab tarp, but its steel jaw was sticking out, its teeth still clotted with black dirt."

"Blizzards" is included in the number eight issue of Upstreet.

Click here for several links to my other Jauss blog entries

David Jauss's web page
Vermont College of Fine Arts web page
Blackbird page, VCU
Expendableman blog
Tastes Like Chicken, an interview
Upstreet magazine web page

15 August, 2011

David Jauss, "From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance & Point of View in Fiction Writing"

An excellent and thorough article, with examples, about point of view by David Jauss. It was published in 2000 in the Writer's Chronicle.

Some quotes from his essay:

some basic techniques fiction writers may use to manipulate distance between the reader and the characters

Indirect Interior Monologue---------------
"The points of view that keep us outside a character require the narrator to use his language, not his character's, whereas the points of view that allow us to be inside a character require the narrator to use the character's language, at least some of the time."

"There is only one point of view that remains outside all of the characters, and that is the dramatic point of view..."

"As I suggested earlier, 'where the language is coming from' is one of the most important issues in point of view."

"So I propose that we use the term "omniscience" to describe the point of view used when the narrator reports, in his language, the thoughts of any number of characters. The fact that the narrator retains his own language keeps him "outside" while the fact that he reports a character's thoughts allows him to go "inside"; hence, this point of view allows the narrator, and the reader, to be simultaneously outside and inside a character."

"Like omniscience, indirect interior monologue allows the narrator to be simultaneously outside and inside a character, but because he is giving us the character's thoughts in the character's language, not his own, he is farther inside a character than in any of the other points of view..."

"While indirect interior monologue is most often employed by third-person narrators reflecting a character's thoughts, it can of course be used by first-person narrators reflecting the thoughts of another character. "

external third-person narration to direct interior monologue-------------
"In Ulysses, for example, Joyce leaps from external narration to internal thought with the aid of nothing more than a colon. The following sentence is typical in the way it segues from a description of Leopold Bloom's actions to his thoughts: 'He sighed down his nose: they never understand.'"

Jean Paul-Sartre
"'She didn't even take the time to comb her hair, she was in such a hurry and the people who'll see me won't know that I'm naked under my grey coat.'"

link to "From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance & Point of View in Fiction Writing"

12 November, 2010

Amy Bloom, "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines"

Susan, an unattractive and heavy young girl, presumably about ten years old, harassed at school, unloved at home, is made, erroneously, to feel better about herself by the neighborhood pedophile who gives her rides to and from school so she doesn't have to ride the school bus where she's bullied.

The story is told in retrospect; Susan is now an adult looking back at her younger years while we do not know details about her adult life. This story might be an example of what David Jauss calls an echo ending. We see the protagonist repeating patterns of behavior. In this story, Susan is no longer near Mr. Klein but she takes piano lessons from Mr. Canetti who served Susan "wine-flavored cookies" and one day, "I saw my beautiful self take shape in his eyes." Susan's victimization continued.

In ten pages Amy Bloom distills the complex relationship between Mr. Klein's lies and Susan's burgeoning understanding of adult manipulation juxtaposed with her thoughts about how she thinks she benefits from Mr. Klein's attentions. One of the saddest sentences comes after Mr. Klein tells Susan--we assume Mr. Klein has been called out on his attentions to Susan--that he can no longer see her. She says, "I had not known that I could talk through this kind of pain." At this point in Susan's life, being Mr. Klein's victim is more palatable to her than being the victim of her parents and her classmates.

The story also illustrates the escalation of Mr. Klein's advances and I'm sure Bloom's experience as a psychotherapist has given her insight into both of these types of people.

"Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines" is included in Bloom's collection, Come to Me.

26 March, 2010

David Jauss, The Writer's Chronicle

These are some diagrams I tried to work out according to Jauss's endings mentioned in his article in "The Writer's Chronicle." I haven't strenuously reviewed them and I'm no scholar but I am a visual learner.
Would love feedback or opinions on how to make them more accurate and better.

21 March, 2010

Chekhov, "Neighbors"

Read Chekhov's story, "Neighbors," which is an example, according to Jauss, of a "complication creating climax." The conflict occurs in the first sentence, "Pyotr Mihalitch Ivashin was very much out of humour: his sister, a young girl, had gone away to live with Vlassitch, a married man." The story continues with the brother's anger diminishing and him becoming less and less capable of taking any action. He lies twice to avoid confrontation and tells his sister, "You have done well." The story ends with Ivashin claiming that "...nothing could ever set it right." The story starts with a conflict and falls steadily as Ivashin talks himself out of taking any action. He's petrified because he doesn't know what to do even though at one point he entertains some options. The complication creating climax is one in which no change has taken place in the protagonist and, in fact, he manages to strengthen his impotence which will, no doubt, cause him conflict in the future.

20 March, 2010

Chekhov, "Terror," Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried," and David Jauss

Read Chekhov's short story, "Terror," which, according to David Jauss, is an example of a "temporary or relapse climax." This is one of Chekhov's most common endings. Characters change temporarily but revert to their previous conditions. Jauss's article is in the March/April 2010 issue of The Writer's Chronicle.

In "Terror," the friend tells in 1st person POV Silin's story but it is the friend who changes as result of Silin catching the narrator and Silin's wife together. Silin, at the conclusion, still does not "understand life."

Listened to Tim O'Brien's twenty year-old story, "The Things They Carried," read by Dylan Baker on the radio program, Selected Shorts, performed at Symphony Space in NY.

18 March, 2010

Amy Bloom, "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You," Charles E. May and David Jauss essays

Read an interesting article on Charles May's blog, "The Beginnings of the Modern Irish Short Story: William Carleton."

The concept of "external climaxes" illuminated in Jauss's essay excites me because, although, I've intuited this to be my favorite type of ending, I never had a name for the sort of climax that happens for the reader more than, if not totally, than for the protagonist. Jauss states about "The Little Joke," "Stories of this sort are often sketch-like in their stasis, but though the characters may not change, our perceptions of them, and perhaps of ourselves, does, and the result is a conclusion as satisfying as that of any plotted story." from the March/April 2010 edition of Writer's Chronicle.

Also read Amy Bloom's story, "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You." A mother's daughter faces gender reassignment surgery while, Jane, the mother, meets a man. The story is written in present tense, omniscient.

17 March, 2010

Chekhov, "The Witch," Amy Bloom, "The Story," and David Jauss

Submitted my story, "Vera, Vera" to the very helpful reviewers at Zoetrope Virtual Studio.

Read Amy Bloom's story, "The Story," included in her collection, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. "The Story" is written in 1st person POV and included amongst the story itself are the narrator's musings about the details of the lives of the people the story is based on and her considerations to make the story more readable or literary. At one point, the narrator asks the reader, "Should I describe him as tall and blond...?" All mixed together in the story are--ultimately about a married couple who lose an infant boy to flu--real life characters, fictional devices, the narrator and the writer. It is an excellent example of metafiction.

Read Chekhov's "The Witch" which is an example, according to Jauss, of a story with an "omitted climax." The story just stops. This one, in particular, ends with a punch in the nose, but no one has come to any conclusion or changed or had an epiphany. The story just ended.

14 March, 2010

Chekhov, "Misery" and David Jauss

"Misery," a short story by Chekhov that appears to have a resolution for Iona but it's not a person to whom he finally gets to tell his troubles to but his horse. First a military officer is rude to Iona and then a group of three partying cads give Iona a cuff on the neck. David Jauss gives this story as an example of one that has a "false climax." Iona tells his horse about his son so he tells of it but it is to a horse and not a person with whom he speaks.

Iona's son, Kuzma, has recently died while ill in the hospital and Iona has not had an opportunity to speak of it to anyone. Iona has no one to share his suffering or to even hear that he is suffering. "His son will soon have been dead a week, and he has not really talked to anybody yet....He wants to talk of it properly, with deliberation...."

"Misery" was written in 1886. It is only a little over nine pages. Told in third-person point of view and present tense.

Wikipedia page about Chekhov
Eldritch Press site with full texts of all Chekhov's stories
another site devoted to literature, page about Chekhov
Britannica Encyclopedia page about Chekhov
Creighton web page, Nebraska Center for Writers, about Chekhov with more links

13 March, 2010

Chekhov, "Anyuta" and David Jauss

Short story by Chekhov, "Anyuta," is an example, according to David Jauss, of a story with an "echo ending," simply meaning that the story ends the way it began. A resolution had been put forth by Stepan but was then retracted by Stepan. About 1/3 into the story the protagonist, Anyuta tells us that this routine to her life has already occurred five times. "In the six or seven years of her wanderings from one furnished room to another, she had known five students like Klotchkov." So, the reader is not anticipating much change to Anyuta.

Another example of an "echo ending" is "In a Strange Land." Champoun, once the tutor to Kamyshev's children, is now basically held hostage because Kamyshev purports to have lost Champoun's passport so that he cannot travel home and so the insulting abuse by Kamyshev begins again as at the outset of the story. It is 6 pages long.

12 March, 2010

Chekhov, "The Chorus Girl" and David Jauss

Read Chekhov's, "The Chorus Girl," keeping in mind David Jauss's essay in which he discusses endings. This story, he says, is an example of a "reverse epilogue." When the reader thinks the story ending is going to jump into the future, it instead reverts to the distant past--which reiterates the current storyline--of the protagonist. In this story, the chorus girl, after relinquishing all of her jewelry to a scorned wife, remembers that she's been "beaten...for no sort of reason" in the past. She's not changed and the reader can only assume she's going to continue this pattern.

10 March, 2010

Chekhov, "A Story Without an End" and David Jauss

Re-read Chekhov's story, "A Story Without an End." According to the David Jauss article, "Returning Characters to Life: Chekhov's Subversive Endings," this story has an anti-epilogue. The last 2 1/4 pages of the story are one-year into the future of the story; however, there is no conclusion and, in fact, the narrator asks, "How will it end?"

The story is written in 1st person POV and past tense. We don't really learn much about the narrator but through his observances we experience the tremendous agony--although at least twice the narrator accuses Vassilyev of posing--of Vassilyev over the death of his wife. One year later he is cavorting in the parlour with two women.

It was fun to read this story again after reading Jauss's paragraph about anti-epilogues. Next lesson is "reverse epilogue."

08 March, 2010

David Jauss, "Returning Characters to Life"

There's a great essay, "Returning Characters to Life: Chekhov's Subversive Endings," in the March/April 2010 issue of The Writer's Chronicle written by David Jauss. From page 25, "In this essay, I will discuss the principal ways Chekhov subverted traditional short story endings to return his characters to life' and its inconclusive conclusions." Jauss delineates a dozen different ways Chekhov ended stories. And, he includes the title to a Chekhov story that illuminates each concept.

This link goes to another essay by Jauss entitled: "From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance & Point of View in Fiction Writing."