I visited Keswick Film Festival this weekend, to see the Osprey shorts section, and once again was reminded of the similarities between the film and the short story genres (and some differences!).

Notably, I was aware of that short story issue of ‘knowing when to stop’. It’s a skill, ability, knack – call it what you will, unless somebody already has – that writers like Dickens and Chekhov were said to have, and which all of us need. I’ve quoted before from Susan Lohafer’s essay in Professor May’s ‘The New Short Story Theories’ – over twenty one years old now! – who found that short stories had embryonic endings embedded within them: places where the story could have stopped, but didn’t.

Films, and especially, I suspect, short films, can have the same places. Some of the ones we saw at Keswick certainly did. These aren’t necessarily places where the stopping would have improved the story, but they aren’t necessarily not so either.

What’s at stake I think (and thinking steak makes me realise, I’m writing this late in the day, and haven’t had supper yet), is some acts of faith on behalf of the writer, or filmmaker, especially in the case of endings that wouldn’t have been premature.

The faiths, and there are two of them, are faith in the reader or viewer, to know what you have been driving at, and faith in yourself that you’ve driven at it! There’s a broader idea too here, about having those faiths throughout a story, however it’s told. Repetition for emphasis can be effective – read Frank O’Connor on James Joyce, in The Lonely Voice – but where it’s used to bolster our own doubts about whether or not we’ve already said what we meant to say in the story, it’s, by definition, a weakness.

Where there are two or three endings, and Lohafer made a convincing case for it, if each one improves, deepens, strengthens – what you will again – the story, then it’s probably been a good thing to have them all. But where each subsequent ‘ending’ lessens (etc) the story, it’s undoubtedly bad!

If we have no faith that our writing has done the job we intended, it’s no use sticking on another bit to recoup the situation. We should go back and re-write, so that it works the first time, and I guess the same is true for storytellers in film. If we have no faith in the reader/viewer, then maybe the answer to that one has nothing to do with the storytelling anyway!

BHDandMe in his English Derby....

BHDandMe in his English Derby…. 

It’s the local writers’ get together this Wednesday (March 2nd …12.30-2.30pm approx!) at Cakes and Ale, in Carlisle (England) by the way!