Stories Within Stories

Antoni Gaudí’s mosaics at Park Güell—stories within stories

Antoni Gaudí’s mosaics at Park Güell—stories within stories

In the world of words, creativity is not restricted to writers: reading is creative, too. Even if neither is aware of the process, readers complete a story by understanding, interpreting and meshing it with their own inner narratives. A reader brings his or her own ‘voice’ to the task. It’s a collaborative process. And sometimes, the meaning readers make from a tale is not what the author intended: writers must release their stories to make their own relationships with their audience. Without readers would there be writers?

The process is palpable in the atmosphere of oral storytelling, when a tale may be elaborated in one direction or another according to the circle of listeners, each hearing the storyteller’s ‘voice’ in a unique way. But it applies also to the written word. When reading, I enjoy the story I see inside the story – the one that is not actually written down but is there, for me, when I read closely. The human capacity for language is a miraculous gift: the words and ideas we can generate are limitless, and that applies equally to writers and readers.

Novelist and short story writer Angela Carter was well aware that readers ‘make’ their own stories: “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself…You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.” And she proved it in her revisionary writings of traditional fairy tales, demonstrating that universal human themes transcend time.

When reading, I enjoy the story I see inside the story – the one that is not actually written down but is there, for me, when I read closely.

I’ve mentioned before on Creative Flux my ambivalence towards education – the affects of rules and strictures on creativity. I withdrew from English literature as a subject in high school because it was spoiling my pleasure in books. Critics and teachers told me what they thought the author was saying, or worse – what the author should have said. I had my own ideas, but most of all I wanted to ask the author why they wrote it, what they wanted to say. I longed for the inside story.

Having finally completed a long nonfiction project, I was browsing through a file of my short stories, wondering whether I could put together a collection, when an intriguing thought emerged. Because it was a while since I’d written some of them, I was viewing them as a reader. One in particular I now realised was about something other than what I thought at the time I wrote it. What, after all, is the difference between a reader and a writer? The overlap is enormous, and anyway, the minds of all of us are structured around narrative.

The initial idea of a short story collection became something entirely different: collaboration between my inner writer and my inner reader which I could share with other writers and readers to mutual benefit. And I could tell the ‘inside story’ in the process. The short story form has so much to offer, so many layers of understanding. An experience of a life condensed yet intensely penetrated, a short story can provide rich insights not only into our own lives as readers, but into the craft of writing.

Exploring around this new concept I discovered that many of my favourite authors began their writing careers with short stories – many still love to write and read them. Their brevity enables us to appreciate the holistic nature of story, to examine in detail how the elements of story are woven into a tiny but perfect garment. Their very conciseness invites deep reading to delve into metaphors, symbols and layers of meaning. And their urgency spotlights critical human concerns and emotions.

What, after all, is the difference between a reader and a writer? The overlap is enormous…

It is a pity most publishers and reviewers pay them scant attention. Every so often there is a ‘short story month’; some devotees tried hard to make 2012 an unofficial ‘year of the short story’. The Man Booker International Prize has twice been awarded to short story writers: in 2009 to Alison Munro, who made the short story form her life’s work, producing 14 collections so far, and in 2013 to Lydia Davis, who writes micro-fiction sometimes only a sentence long.

Of course, The New Yorker Magazine has always been faithful to the form, and currently, The Guardian’s Chris Power is running a fascinating series of articles, A Brief Survey of the Short Story, and is already beyond number 50. This is welcome because stories have formed us since we roamed the Savannah; they are forever, not for a month or a year. They deserve more constancy.

So I found a way to celebrate short stories that brings readers and writers together, exploring the significance to them both of issues like ‘inspiration’, ‘voice’, ‘character’, ‘theme’ and ‘structure’. Some understanding of the writer’s task gives depth to a reader’s experience and rewards close reading. I focused on key aspects with specific articles, and shared the meaning of it all by analyzing my own stories because I knew how they had been created. The result is not a ‘how-to’ book: more the sort of companion I would love to have at hand to bounce off thoughts as I write and read.

Like any innovative idea, I had to make up my own rules at times; working through snags to achieve a balance in offering insights on reading as well as writing, but it has been a stretching and exciting project. Inside Stories for Writers and Readers has now been released by Collca: I look forward to my audience completing the ‘story’ with their own inner ‘voices’.

You can read more about Inside Stories here



Trish Nicholson

Trish Nicholson

Trish Nicholson is a non-fiction author and writer of some award-winning short stories. Four of her stories have been accepted for publication in anthologies. She is a keen photographer and uses only her own pictures on her website. Trish likes to vary her weekly blogs, which include book reviews, stories and writing tips among other topics.

In between writing she runs her Relaxation Therapy clinic and plants trees. Her background is in social anthropology and management training. Together they led her to spend 12 years working on aid and development projects and research in the Asia Pacific region before settling on a hillside in New Zealand. She lives in the ‘winterless’ Far North, just inside the sub-tropics where the sun shines even in winter and they pick oranges between showers.

Connect with Trish

Blog | Twitter: @trishanicholson


From Apes To Apps

From Apes To Apps

"Inside Stories For Writers and Readers," by Trish Nicholson

Inside Stories For Writers and Readers


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3 thoughts on “Stories Within Stories

    • Wonderful, Tom! So nice to see you here, and I agree with you. I think that Trish has described the reason we connect with certain characters and storylines and why we savor certain books/stories. Her short story facts are also intriguing, particularly Chris Power’s series of articles.

      Trish has been a faithful contributor to Creative Flux, and I encourage everyone to read her other fascinating posts:

      Trish, you’ve offered up another gem, thank you so much for sharing it on CF!

  1. Hello Thomas, and Terre, so glad the post offers some inspiration. Inside Stories aims to be companiable, so it is a happy thought that I might be in the company of your writing group, Thomas. I love contributing to Creative Flux, Terre, it is so open and stimulating, an ideal atmosphere for creativity. Thank you so much for giving us Creative Flux, and supporting us all in our involvement.

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