I was thinking about story the other day, partly because I’m working on assembling a collection of my own short stories. I have one favourite, The Archaeology of Snow, which I wrote in 2008. It’s never been accepted anywhere. I was thinking about this one because I’d just decided that it didn’t fit with the collection I was assembling.
When I thought about why I felt that way, it came down to two things. First, this story has no fantasy element, and most of what I was assembling did. But second, I felt that The Archaeology of Snow was a constructed story, by which I mean I very carefully fitted various elements together to make it. The other stories I’m considering for the collection are what I think of as “grown” stories.
This distinction may not be apparent to anyone else in the final story, but I know it because I wrote the darn things. A constructed story is pieced together and smoothed over. A grown story may be pruned or grafted onto, but the story itself seems to develop more naturally, at least when I’m writing it. And, like plants, a grown story has a way of putting out its own twigs and telling you to take this or that direction if you want a more shapely plant. A constructed story, like a house, doesn’t do things overnight when you’re not looking.
Maybe that’s why I like my grown stories better. There’s a sense of mystery to them, the idea that I’m collaborating with the story to bring it to its best shape. I like surprises, and constructed stories don’t surprise me.
But I still like good workmanship, and from time to time I know I’ll still construct a story because I want to tell it, and it doesn’t seem to be growing on its own. It takes all kinds.