Matthew Munson: Exploring fiction in its many forms

Bryan and Matthew

Well, that’s the first year of my university career done and dusted. Because I’m doing the course part-time, I won’t be finishing the official Year One until this time next year, with a different set of classmates to the ones I started with this year. I was disappointed in one sense not to be able to do the course full-time, but I couldn’t find the time to fit everything in – being a dad, work, and my studies.

I made a practical decision at that point. I could have decided to wait until Bryan was older before embarking on a full-time course, but then what would I be doing with my time now? It might take me longer to get my degree this way, but I’m still progressing towards it; I’d rather be doing something than nothing, and I’ve already produced a few pieces of short fiction that I’m rather proud of. I’ve even written a couple of poems that I like – who’d have thought?

Fiction comes in many forms, and I love writing novel-length stories. You can get your teeth into the characters and their individual stories, histories, and ambitions. When I wrote my first book, that was published quite a few years ago now, I had three main characters, and intended it as a stand-alone book. But when I reached the end, I felt like they had more to tell – their story wasn’t done. I ended up writing a second book based on the same characters, carrying on their story, and I couldn’t find a segue that would allow me to turn the duology into a trilogy. I didn’t want to write more about characters that would have been a stretch; I like to think I know when to stop.

But shorter fiction does have an appeal sometimes, and I do enjoy writing it from time to time. I usually have to be nudged into writing short stories; for a competition entry, an anthology, or university.

I have vaguely thought about writing an anthology of shorter fiction just by itself. Authors do sometimes do that; I remember reading a couple of editions of Jeffrey Deaver’s short fiction, and hung off every single word. I’m not comparing myself to Jeffrey Deaver, but I’ve wondered on and off if I might be able to do something comparable one day – maybe …

Really short fiction is another challenge. I doubt you could fill a book full of them, but someone might have tried, I guess. Hemingway popularised a six-word “story” (if you can call it that); “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” That immediately evokes so many thoughts and emotions, doesn’t it? I find myself wanting more, and the point of a piece of fiction that short is that you never will know for certain – although our own imaginations will often try and fill in the blanks.

We tried crafting four and six word stories in a lesson at university last year, and it was hard. You obviously can’t create a full story like you would in a short story of a couple of thousand words, or in a novel of seventy or eighty thousand, but you can sometimes create a sense of something – something that then allows the reader’s imagination to drift off into many different directions. I tried creating a few, and my favourite was “Born. Didn’t Live. Died. Wasted Life.” That one came to me in the middle of a writing workshop at university, and I submitted it in my portfolio for that lesson.

For me, writing fiction is a key part of who I am. I couldn’t imagine not doing creative writing every day. Even if I only get twenty minutes to put something down, I’ll take it – being a father is also important, and Bryan deserves my attention.

Ironically, I’ve been struggling with a novel-length story I’ve been working on for a while. I completed a first draft a couple of months ago, and I’ve been working on a second draft … but something doesn’t feel right with the final third of the story.

I can’t quite tell you what yet, but it doesn’t quite pack the punch that it should do. I’ve been trying to come up with the answer, but I feel that I’m pushing against a locked door right now. So I’ve put that to one side for a while, and am working on a different story – with the hope that, when I go back to the first one, I might find the solution. It’ll just take me some time, but I need to be patient.