June 28, 2012

You Are A Short Story, He Was A Novel

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What is the issue?

You are a short story. You start in the middle maybe, and you don’t have a long word count. A few pages. A short arc. A gimmick. Some terse resolution.

You’re certainly not a novel. You don’t creep sweetly along — slowly, steadily, building to a climax, resolving in the end. I don’t take you on the subway and read you for months and months. I don’t lug you around in my bag — with your pages bent comfortably, your cover ripping off, your edges worn. He was a novel, but you are a short story, wedged between other short stories, maybe, in some kind of collection. Or on your own — a light, morning read. You are notable. You can be good. You are favorite territory to re-tread, with little to no time lost. You are easy.

You make me feel like I am also a short story to you. It’s like we’re writing something small together — filling in the dialogue right where it should go, describing the people and the clothing and the setting. Making metaphors, twisting prose. Not predictable, and not a novel, but perfect in its own way. Strangely, in this short story, there are no first drafts. We are editing as we go. It’s minimalism. Every word counts. You are someone I can read over and over again, that I want to read to others, that I can recommend and not feel too uneasy about it. You can be longer, expanded, worked on — or not. You can become your own short story collection with bits and pieces of the same character followed through a single weaving timeline. You can stick around for a while. But in the end, you will never be a novel.

I know this, because he was a novel. A sweeping force. A sturdy hardback. A familiar feeling in my hands. Someone you sit down with in a soft sofa chair and read for a long, long time. Something you can’t put down. A page turner, with detail and editing and work.

You are more like: writing in the lines, in the margins, in the sides of notebooks. Swirls doodled in class. Jotted lines on napkins. You are spilling out of me, bursting. You are this pen and this paper taken out in the middle of a bar so I can quickly get it all down before I forget. You are a short story. Ending too soon and with no real wrap-up. And to you, I am a minor character. And why not? You’re the protagonist. If you were a novel, you’d be Murakami living his youth in Norwegian Wood and I am the manic pixie love interest, Midori — memorable and entertaining, but hardly central. A character actress. A blip in your fictitious world. I am your own lovely, little short story.

My short story is about a young girl, too young, who wasn’t ready to read everything that was handed to her, everything she bought from miles of books in a dusty, old used book store, everything she unknowingly, naively checked out of the library. Like the author of a short story, you are more fascinated by the way I feel about you, than you are interested in reciprocating my feelings. You are researching me for your next project. You are writing characters from the outside, looking in. Because we are, after all, just a short story. A page. A paragraph. A typed word. We meander about, going nowhere.

He was a novel, sure. But novels are long. Novels are complex. Novels are a long-term commitment. So instead, I picked you up. You became my short story, and we are as yet unpublished. TC Mark

Gaby Dunn

Gaby Dunn is a writer, comedian, journalist and Jesse Eisenberg enthusiast living in Los Angeles. Email her at: …

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