BULLshot: Michael Fischer

BULLshot: Michael Fischer

PW: In a very small space, you’ve managed to effectively incorporate numerous compelling minor characters. What are your views on the use of minor characters in a short story, how they can help or hinder any given story?

MF: Well, regardless of length, I’m a fan of large minor character ensembles in fiction, so any potential limitations imposed by length never occurred to me, which is why it probably works: it’s intuitive and driven by voice and a sense of place.One of the consequences of Carveresque minimalism, still the predominant mode in American short fiction, is the suffocating sense that a story be about an extremely narrow set of concerns. When an aesthetic is predicated on this kind of hyper-narrowing, there will be a profound impact on character, language, setting, and point-of-view: limit your characters, make your language plain, avoid too much description, limit your POV to one character. Yada, yada, yada. I’m not down with that! I’m not interested in narrowing—I’m trying to live up to Faulkner’s plea to “create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.” Like Faulkner, I think of texture as additive, not subtractive. Give me a funny-sad story (of any length) with a cacophony of voices and an earthy sense of place.I also spend more time reading classic writers than contemporary writers and have maintained a lifelong love affair with Dickens and Twain. I am completely mesmerized by their ability to write large and hearty minor character ensembles. Uriah Heep in David Copperfield and Colonel Sherburn in Huck Finn are as memorable to me as David and Huck. My preference for the tragicomic—another inheritance from Dickens and Twain—also informs my attraction to large (and often hammy or earthy) minor character ensembles, a tradition that can be traced back to Shakespeare and Chaucer. As long as the voice and sense of place are strong, limited length shouldn’t prevent a short story writer from writing numerous compelling minor characters.
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About the Author

Pete Witte writes and is the BULLshot Editor for BULL. He lives with his family in Arlington, Virginia.