The General Election: A good model for a bad short story

pollingThere’s just under a week to go until the General Election in the UK and I, for one, can’t wait for May 7th. Not because I’m eager to see how the whole thing shakes out, but because it will put an end to campaigning, which has become akin to being punched repeatedly in the face by the worst short story ever conceived.

I’m working on my debut collection of short stories and like to think, as I go through the task of writing and editing, that I have at least some idea about characterisation, theme, tone and voice. What makes an arresting opening, how tight dialogue works, about plot and pace and how to wrap things up.

As a writer, I also have a tendency to view things through the prism of good narrative. So it occurred to me the other day that the election campaign should be about involving, sympathetic characters, driven by the cause they believe, passionate for the fight. It should be a tale of deep emotion, obstacles overcome, themes that resonate.

And what do we have? A Room 101 of weak, lazy writing, dull characters, a big bucketful of cliche and some shocking dialogue.

With a short story, the idea is to start close to the key dramatic moment, but this election campaign started so long ago the storyline has become flaccid and uninvolving. We’re only reading because we’ve stuck with it this far and feel like we should at least get to the end.

And what of the characters? there’s so many of them. It’s tricky to keep up with why they are in the story in the first place. Don’t some of them belong in a different story? There’s a few which threaten some interest, like the Scottish one with the slick patter and pancake make-up, and the two-faced cove with his fags and booze.

But the two main characters read like an amalgam of others, an approximation of their true selves. There’s authorial interference here, the writer too fearful of making mistakes. So these characters become marionettes, wooden and manipulated by unseen hands.

As for dialogue, the writer is desperate to make it punchy, short and sharp. But in trying to ‘pump it up’ the gap between the characters and their words becomes ever clearer.

So it goes on. I’m not seduced by this story, it is slow-paced and thinly plotted, there’s plenty of Tell, but very little Show. I’m not expecting a good finish, that satisfying literary flourish which subtly refers back to the start, indicating how far everyone has come.

And what do I fear the most? That this narrative will have no moment of revelation, no epiphany, no deeper understanding that brings about a change in the characters.

No sense, in fact, for the reader, that anything very significant has changed at all.


One thought on “The General Election: A good model for a bad short story

  1. Ha – so very (depressingly) true. Many industries have lost the art and importance of effective and honest storytelling. Makes me want to shake their comms people (and the leaders).

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