This week I’m going to take part in a live reading event called Noir at the Bar. It’s a fun event that focuses on crime tales and the forties pulp-fiction style. I’m excited to participate, but as usual it throws me into a tizzy of what to read. Short stories come in all shapes and sizes but reading for an audience is quite different. Not every story translates well to an audience that’s slurping their way through cocktails and appetizers. I would, of course, love an audience to hang breathless on my every word, but even when an audience comes specifically to see an author it’s very hard to get that level of studiously quiet audience participation.
Through the variety of readings that I have experienced I’ve developed the theory of “joke” short stories for readings. Not that a reading has to be funny, but that it should be constructed like a joke.
There is the set-up.
A man walks into a bar at the top of a rise building. It’s a swanky place, but there’s a guy in a suit and glasses slumped at the bar.
“I can’t believe this view,” says the man, looking out the window.
“Yeah, but you’ve got to look out for the cross-winds. They’re killer,” says the drunk guy, brushing a curl of dark hair off his forehead.
“What are you talking about?” asks the man.
The drunk guy stumbles off his bar stool. “Here I’ll show you.” He opens the window and steps out, but the winds sweep in and he simply hovers in air and then steps back into the bar.
“Holy cow,” says the man. “I can’t believe that.”
“Give it a try,” says the guy in glasses.
The man steps off the building and plummets to the ground. The bartender looks up from polishing the glasses as the drunk guy sits back down. “Jeez, Superman, you are mean when you drink.”
The story has to have a pay-off or the audience sort of stares at you like cows in a field. It doesn’t have to be a funny pay off, but there has to be some sort of solid finish that gives an audience a feeling of conclusion. Usually, it's some sort of twist that reveals the truth or that gives the audience the key to understanding the story. I'll be reading a condensed version of a short story from my Shark Santoyo story. Hopefully, Noir at the Bar enjoys what I’ve selected for them. Wish me luck!
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, Tales From the City of Destiny, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.