James Robertson writes 365 words on his remarkably ambitious new short story project: 365. You’ll be able to read a new installment of 365 every day over at Five Dials from January 1st 2014.
The concept was simple enough: one story for each day of the year, written on each day of the year; each story to be exactly the same length, 365 words. So, by the end of the year, there they would be: 365 365-word stories.
The motivation? To see what would happen.
In theory, turning out 365 words once a day (in between other tasks and projects) is no big deal. I hear the scoffing of journalists: once a day? In reality, pinning down so many ideas and shaping each of them into something recognisably a ‘story’ is quite a challenge. The fixed word count (my computer does the reckoning, and grants hyphenated items single word status) is both a frustrating barrier and a useful restraint, much as the obligations of the sonnet form are simultaneously restricting and liberating to a poet. Beyond that, I may do what I like with the words at my disposal – provided I dispose of the superfluous ones. If I happen to get carried away and write 700, half of them must go. At what point does editing morph from judicious pruning into a massacre of the innocents?
Here’s an obvious question prompted by this daily exercise: what is a story? How much can be said, what of life examined, in so few words? Is there space to develop character, plot, narrative style? Are these even necessary to make a story? What about all those indispensable ingredients from the creative writing workshop – tone, structure, point of view? Answers, please, in the form of entertainment, provocation, reflection.
So the days go by, the stories emerge – sometimes early, easily and quickly, sometimes late at night after hours of struggle – and sometimes the vague shapes of themes and forms seem to loom around them. There are elements of myth and legend, outtakes from history and folklore, squibs and satires on our current insanities, songs and ballads in disguise, and things half forgotten passing like ghosts. There are, perhaps, patterns in what at first seemed random. There is, for sure, randomness at play beneath the word count.
We are made of stories, all of us. Stories make us. But what do we make of them?