When a story has a life of its own

“A short story I have written long ago would barge into my house in the middle of the night, shake me awake and shout, ‘Hey, this is no time for sleeping! You can’t forget me, there’s still more to write!’ Impelled by that voice, I would find myself writing a novel. In this sense, too, my short stories and novels connect inside me in a very natural, organic way.”
Haruki Murakami

The progress with my short stories, which I started about a month ago after writing a post about short fiction, has been monopolised by my work on one of my ideas, which has been sitting waiting to be developed for a fairly long time now. It is about a high school teacher who tries to help an introvert young girl with a troubled past, firstly with her upcoming exams, then with her abusive home life. Soon, however, he finds he is a little bit more involved than a teacher really should be, and the secrets of the girl’s past turn out to be more compromising and more deadly than he ever could have imagined. This story is starting to become slightly longer than first expected, and I found I have been pulled along by the events as they unfold – rather than me breathing life into the characters, controlling them and their actions, they have been taking me on a journey. The above statement by Murakami sums this up completely. I don’t think this story will be novel-length, but after writing down the basis of it long ago, it certainly has come back to find me, and in doing so has taken on a presence of its own. There have been certain times in my life, when I have been working on a certain story, where I have gone to sleep practically with a pen in my hand, and when I woke up, picked the notebook up off the floor where it fell and continued right where I left off. This is one of those times.

Latest short story

To quote Edgar Allan Poe, “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”  I can feel this happening with this as yet untitled tale – the reader will have a good sense of where the relationship between teacher and student is leading – emphasised by the teacher himself claiming: You would have to be a fool to not see where this is going. Well, I suppose that makes me a great big fucking fool. Every action is leading up to that point, but there will be a couple of twists in the tale that will also make it difficult to predict how the inevitable will finally end. I am now into part two of the story, where it is starting to become a little darker, with the actions of the characters becoming a bit erratic and obsessive. I will be interested to see where they take me next.

This is why I like short stories just as much as longer fiction; that notion of a single mood being explored in great detail for a short period of time, that will really drag the reader into its clutches and then suddenly let go. This, hopefully, will be encapsulated in the other ideas I want to develop, which basically consist of the following: an incident in the aftermath of a tornado, two sisters who may or may not be witches, a Victorian hospital for women who have lost babies, and the unfortunate daughter of couple who only got together because they were both involved in a hostage situation, making them overnight celebrities.

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