Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

The Short Story as Process—Not
What It Means

Cyril Dabydeen

The short-story form is about character; nay, a slice of life. This idea I carried around with me for quite a while, yet at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, India, at a conference on the short story where 1 was a keynote speaker, I confronted my suppositions about the short story as never before: what it means for someone like me, living in Canada and grappling with identity, and more immediate problems, such as how the story should begin (not just a dignified preamble) or what closure really means—if it must convey, for instance, the sense of the characters' lives intriguing the reader beyond the story's ending. Indeed, I became convinced that the story must reflect probability above all else as a way for the writer to reflect integrity: what someone like V. S. Naipaul, I suspect, is chiefly concerned about in the narrative form, not merely whether the novel or short story is seen as selecting and arranging incidents to “produce an artistically patterned work, a totality in which nothing is superfluous” (David Daiches).

In then British Guiana, where I grew up, I'd read the stories of Somerset Maugham and H. E. Bates, and American writers like Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe. The stories by V. S. Naipaul and Sam Selvon I also read with zeal because they addressed who I was, my sense of self and a tropical reality—all that I was familiar with. Naipaul's “B. Wordsworth,” for instance, I recently looked at again and thought of reading with my Canadian-born 12-year-old daughter in order to communicate to her the sense of pacing and character, all quintessentially the early Naipaul's. And Selvon's “Waiting for Aunty to Cough,” for instance, reflecting his remarkable naturalness of style

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