First and foremost, I have to say a very real thank you to those who commented on my last post and were so enthusiastic about the idea of the Short Story Project. I have been giving it a lot of thought over the intervening few days and I hope that I will be ready to start by the end of the week.
Many of the comments you made were really useful in helping me to formulate my ideas in greater detail. For instance, my list of possible variables grew exponentially. I can now see that at some point I shall have to consider such differences as nationality, gender and possibly sexuality of the author, the date when the story was written and the genre of which it is an example, whether it was written in English or if I am reading a translation and the length of the text.
However, initially, I’m not going to take any of those factors into account for two reasons. First, until I’ve got some specific results there is no point in trying to generalise out. To start with, I simply need to begin to explore some stories and gradually build up a data set. I can’t begin to look for patterns until I have enough material for patterns to become apparent.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I have to see whether or not the method of analysis I use for complete stories will prove equally as effective a tool when applied to fragments of stories. There can’t be anything instinctive about this. My results have to be replicable by anyone else carrying out the same process. I have to be able to cite grammatical evidence for my decisions. In one sense, then, it doesn’t matter where I start because if my methodology isn’t generally applicable it isn’t going to be any use.
So, following up Ian’s advice about checking out the various Penguin and Oxford anthologies I’ve ordered a copy of The Oxford Book of English Short Stories, edited by A S Byatt on the grounds that at least I can trust her to have selected stories that will be worth reading. In fact, looking at the Table of Content I can see that this will give me works from a wide range of dates and, eventually, from authors of both genders, but as I say, initially that isn’t going to be important. As soon as that arrives I can get down to work.
In the meantime, I am trying to master the art of keeping a spreadsheet on my computer. If you should see any smoke rising into the skies from the general direction of the English West Midlands then you will know what it is!