This semester was my first foray into writing linked stories, which at the beginning felt like a completely new form from anything I’d ever attempted before. And that might be a more appropriate word than “foray”—attempt. We read several examples of linked stories as a class; some felt more like short story cycles, while others felt more like novels. We read Winesburg, Ohio, Mrs. Bridge, Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon, and A Visit from the Goon Squad. We defined “linked stories” as stories that fit together, but could also stand alone individually. Not quite everything we read fit into this model completely. For example, sometimes a piece of what we read might not stand alone well, and so it would read more as a chapter of a novel than a story in a series of linked stories.
Whenever we talked about something we had read, we would talk about where it might fall on the scale of short stories vs. novel. Several times, we literally drew a line on the chalkboard with “short stories” at one end and “novel” at the other. We would then place whatever title we had just read wherever we thought it fell on the line, usually closer to one end then the other. No book fell right in the middle. For example, Winesburg read more like short stories, and Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, more like a novel. While this was theoretically a good illustration for what we were learning, the fact that none of our reading fell perfectly in the middle into its own classification of “linked stories” made understanding this new form somewhat more difficult for me, especially when the time came for me to begin writing my own.
I began my linked stories full of trepidation. I had a setting, a discount movie theater, and a few characters in mind, but I was terrified that I would not be able to “link” my different storylines effectively. When I finally began writing, however, my characters and stories seemed to “link” together almost magically, without me even trying. In fact, I did not even notice the “linking” going on in my stories until workshop, when my classmates pointed out that my characters and their stories were linked not only in their common workplace, but also within their interactions.
Although when I looked over what I had written, I began to worry that something more closely resembling a novel was evolving on my computer screen. Then I was worried that what I was writing was not actually linked stories, but chapters of what was becoming a novel. This was a problem I had not anticipated. When we came together again as a class, I found out I was not alone, but that others in my class were also concerned that their work was more resembling a novel or short story cycle, and somehow this form of “linked stories” was eluding us. We eventually came to the earth-shattering conclusion that we were going about this in the wrong way. Linked stories is not necessarily a form off on its own, but it is a way to write a series of short stories or a novel. As our professor told us that day—she’d tricked us into writing a novel.