Personal Experience and Fiction

I was critiquing a story and suggested to the writer that the ending didn’t work.

‘But that really happened,’ she said. I replied that real events don’t always – or even often – make good fiction. When talking to friends about what’s been going on in our lives we tend to frame things in a particular way, embellish this, exaggerate that, so as to add interest to what we’re saying.

This is even more important when creating fiction. We might start from personal experience but we craft a piece as we write it, we wrap it in meaning, we add structure and significance.

Writers of fiction also produce works that have no basis in their own lives. But for these to work there has to be a connection between the writer and the work: the story expresses an emotion the writer feels or once felt.

Some of the short stories in takahe 86 (the April 2016 issue) are clearly based on personal experience. Some less so or not at all. Either way I hope you enjoy them.

Choosing the stories for the next issue

GovernorsBayPanoramicI’ve been selecting the short fiction for takahe 86, due out in April. There wasn’t a single submission that didn’t have some merit – great style, interesting characters or a gripping plot.

As I went through the pile, making decisions, it struck me yet again how fiendishly difficult it is to write a good short story. The ones that appealed to me were those which read easily, the words flowing gracefully. Effort made so as to appear effortless; no forced metaphors or flowery constructions; no unnecessary extras.

More than this is needed, however. There has to be one or more characters that the reader believes in, a beginning that intrigues, an ending that satisfies. But above all I realised, as I read piece after piece, there must be a substantial reason – other than telling a tale, or showing a slice of life – why the writer has chosen this particular subject. I believe that the stories I finally selected were those whose creator had become immersed, obsessed perhaps, by the fiction they were producing.

I hope you enjoy reading the chosen pieces when takahe 86 appears.