by David Dean
In a very few weeks I will have the privilege of making a presentation on short story writing at the Pennwriters Group (as in Pennsylvania) convention. A kind friend of mine, a writer of several fine thrillers, recommended me for the job, and not knowing any better, the staff approved. For months now I have been sweating this assignment. After all, I will be addressing writers who (regardless of where they are on their career paths) probably know as much I do. In fact, upon sober reflection (obviously that was not the case when I agreed to this), I find that I do not actually know much about writing anyway. I just do it.
So at this stage of my planning process, I'm picturing myself appearing before these dear people and saying something along the lines of, "I like short stories. I've read a bunch. There are some real good ones out there. Read a lot of those real good ones (at this stage I hand out smudged, mimeographed lists of real good stories). Then write a lot, okay? Practice makes perfect. Oh, I almost forgot...don't imitate those writers of real good stories. Write original-like. Ummm...any questions?"
Then I wake up screaming, "It's not my fault! It's all been said before!"
Which it has really.
Or … maybe, I lay down at the bottom of the stairs on the big day, just as Robin gets home, and start moaning incoherently, "Owww...my head! What happened? Who are you, beautiful lady? Do I know you?" This has worked in the past.
Here's my problem— I'm not an academic. I'm a high school drop-out that got a GED in the army and a junior college degree later. Not much in the way of credentials. I have played instructor on occasion, but the circumstances were very different. In the military, I gave classes on Soviet equipment identification, and sometime led P.T. (physical training). While a police officer, I taught search and seizure, and patrol techniques, at the academy. In both instances I had what amounted to a captive audience. They needed me more than I needed them. Also, if I noticed anyone's attention wavering, I could drop them for push-ups, or make humorous remarks about their family lineage and chances of graduating. Rank had its privileges. Not so much now.
So, do I dredge up the history of the short story, perhaps discuss its definition(s)? Or do I assume that they know that much already? Do I offer brief examples by the form's greatest practitioners, or figure they are probably better read than I am? Maybe, I'll just concentrate on the writing aspect. Or is that too subjective? Perhaps, I'll just ask them what the hell they want from me?
What say you, fellow SleuthSayers (especially you, John Floyd, as I know you give classes on this very thing), and dear readers? Any suggestions of what you'd want to hear or have discussed at such a gathering? What has worked for you? I'm all ears.