A Clean Surface With Much Disturbance Below

Joy Williams’s masterful Ninety-Nine Stories of God (Tin House Books, 2016) is a unique collection of flash fiction and philosophical reflection. Angular, sometimes perplexing, always interesting–these stories, some of which are no more than a few sentences, carry an impact well beyond what they say. In doing so, they also reflect Williams’s technique as a short story writer. In a recent interview, she outlined her ideas about how to write effective short fiction (and how to distinguish the short story from the novel). I’m reproducing her points here:

1) There should be a clean clear surface with much disturbance below

2) An anagogical level

3) Sentences that can stand strikingly alone

4) An animal within to give its blessing

5) Interior voices which are or become wildly erratically exterior

6) Control throughout is absolutely necessary

7) The story’s effect should transcend the naturalness and accessibility of its situation and language

8) A certain coldness is required in execution. It is not a form that gives itself to consolation but if consolation is offered it should come from an unexpected quarter.

A novel wants to befriend you, a short story almost never.