Putting Pen to Paper

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The first stories I tried to write and the book that started it all: continuing the brief history that foretells the work I am currently writing.

One night I couldn’t sleep, I wrote three stories. One long, one short and one vignette, though I didn’t know that was what they were until much later. Much later I also realised that at the time of writing them, I knew nothing about writing. The key to this realisation was in the endings, which also ties into the book that made me want to write seriously; Raymond Carver’s Short Cuts. The basic point is that I had no idea how to end a story without killing all or at least one of the characters involved.

Raymond Carver

The first of the stories I wrote was about a young boy finally telling a girl he’s known all his life that he loves her. They go out for a drive and crash and the girl dies. The second was about a boy who stumbled upon an old man who gave him lots of wisdom and then proceeded to die on a park bench. I tried to stop killing but whenever I did the story felt unfinished.

A few weeks later, my girlfriend’s little sister had heard that I was trying to write short stories and gave me Carver’s Short Cuts. I read the book pretty quickly and was immediately struck by the wonderful nature to the writing. It was honest, simple, realistic and overall thoroughly entertaining. The thing that really made an impression during my first collision with Carver though, was that stories can end without death or severe maiming.

Carver’s stories are magnificent and reading them instantly made me think about writing differently. I initially thought that stories would have to contain all the information a reader could want including back story and internal emotions like something out of Proust. But Carver taught me that stories can actually have little in the way of detail and still be just as absorbing; it is the holes he leaves that allow the reader’s imagination to seep in and when that happens you invariably get sucked in.

After reading Short Cuts, I went out and bought as much Carver as I could find and I began writing stories without endings, sometimes without beginnings too. Admittedly they weren’t that much better overall but I had made a change and a few months later I started my apprenticeship; a summer of nothing but reading and writing, during which I wrote my first published stories.

Alex Thornber

Alex Thornber

Alex writes short stories and occasionally things a little bit longer. He has had fiction published in places like Wilderness House LIterary Review, Metazen and Spectre Magazine and has a story in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology Jawbreakers. He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novella and his blog at alexthornber.wordpress.com.

Alex writes short stories and occasionally things a little bit longer. He has had fiction published in places like Wilderness House LIterary Review, Metazen and Spectre Magazine and has a story in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology Jawbreakers. He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novella and his blog at alexthornber.wordpress.com.

One comment

  1. Rob says:

    Carver is an incredible writer, and as Alex says, it’s the elliptical nature of his style which is so striking: elliptical both in terms of using the fewest possible words in sentences to convey messages, and also in terms of storytelling – narratives are boiled down to only their essential details. I’ve found that the way his stories are so often unresolved means they linger in the memory. They’re definitely not stories you read then immediately stop thinking about.

    That certainly seems to be true for the film director Robert Altman, too – he adapted nine of Carver’s stories and one poem with ‘Short Cuts’, which is well worth a watch.

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