11.23.2004

Space Constraint III & MFA

Simon Owens of the blog with blissfully brief insights, Lit Haven, [LJ feed] pointed out this essay from storySouth on short shorts. The author, Jason Sanford, more or less said what I said here with more force (although I didn't think Stern's short was the most successful of that collection--perhaps it was the best available online).

As often happens when the MFA is held up as a sign deteriorating quality in fiction, Sanford strikes a few true chords but simplifies the case against MFA programs. Madison Smartt Bell and others have given good defenses of the MFA. Some writers claim to help young writers find their own voices (memory fails to cough up where I read that).

Bell thought that MFA writers in his experience often had many original voices but the problem came when a writer tried to incorporate all criticisms. (My own experience revising critiqued stories is that often the critiquer--no matter how specific--doesn't always know exactly what the problem is or at least the best way to solve it and maintain the artist's vision. If they say something should be shaded darker, maybe another area should be lighter. So turning the criticism to different angles may resolve voice problems, as well as tossing out illegitimate critiques (although those, too, may have grain of truth in them if you're will to ponder around the diatribes). Karen Joy Fowler had similar advice succinctly put: If they say your story should be longer, maybe it should be shorter or vice versa.)

I would take issue with his implied statement that short shorts are easier to write. It may take less time to put the first draft down, but to get the words right can take seven years--at least for some.

On the other hand, if "Hills Like White Elephants" were scribbled on a cocktail napkin to pay off a beer tab, should we care? Does the gestation period matter?

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