January 16, 2006

Tiny Worlds


Eudora Welty and I became acquainted over the fall. After the initial shock of meeting, we have become quite inseparable, truly kindred spirits. So it was with great joy I received the news that I was to read her 'On Writing' in school this term.

I started it today, and as always am in awe. Here is a thought from the first chapter, 'Looking at Short Stories'--

"And so, plainly, we must distinguish plots not by their skeletons but by their full bodies; for they are embodiments, little worlds."

So, so true-- any story is a world, but a short story is a tiny world, compressed into 20 pages or so, so small that there is no space for context. So the writer must provide a diving board for the reader to jump in with, to submerge themselves all at once. There is no time for wading in gradually here, as in a novel. And indeed, maybe short stories are so powerful because of the shock of diving into the icy water all at once, with no time to calibrate yourself to the temperature like you have the leisure to when reading a longer work.

This littleness, paradoxically, also makes the the scope for impact of the story bigger. Unbound by the context of a novel full of characters and dialogues and subplots, the story itself has the freedom to be a Thing, an Entity. As Eudora says-- "This is because, although a small situation is going on, a large, complex one is implied." Everything becomes so miniature, so compressed that it has much more impact. No wonder short stories hurt.


Laura Kathryn said...

"Why I Live At the P.O." is one of my favorite Welty short stories. It is absolutly hilarious.
Do read it.

rachel tsunami said...

We will loan you our cherished copy of Welty reading "Why I Live at the P.O." on tape. It's a must for any Welty fan.

In college ('78 ?) I was in a Reader's Theatre group and we did a costumed and propped version of P.O. I played "Mama", complete with hairnet, additional padding (ahem), and granny shoes. Welty's characters and writing are sheer genius.

Have fun!