Saturday, May 6, 2017

Short Stories Again: What Make a Good Short Manga Story

Wataru overhears a confession. For honorific-purists like
myself, Tachibana is really saying Kuzuki-san or
Kazuki-sensei. She's an underclassman.
Like the powerful essay or newspaper article, strong short stories are harder to perfect than novels--hence, the enormous variety. I recently purchased two cheap short story manga collections. Although neither of them lived up to my highest expectations, one was clearly better than the other. Even within the same manga, the stories widely varied.

In a previous post, I reflected on what makes a poor short story and concluded that while a good short story can have only a premise, a poor short story always has only a premise.

Even a narrative arc, however, doesn't guarantee a good story. 

So what makes a good manga short story?

1. The characters' behavior evolves organically.

In a good short story, the characters behave naturally to their personality types. The story's next step is there because that's how the character would behave, not because it is time for the next step to occur.

A typical event in Japanese manga/light novels is the confession, kokuhaku (告白)--whereby one character professes feelings of love for the other. This often occurs even when there is no surety that the confession will be received or returned. (It is good manners to at least listen.)

In poor short stories, the confession is treated as a solution in and of itself. Hey, the character made a confession: matter is closed. In the better short stories, the confession is followed by reflection and explanation; sometimes a period of time passes before acceptance.

Instant fixes are rarely organic--and never believable.

2. The characters are memorable.

A "type" or one-dimensional character is not a problem. Yes, it helps if the character has somewhat  memorable characteristics. I remember the character who continually falls in love with eyeglass-wearing, stocky news anchors, simply because it's cute and funny. And I remember the character who got lost in a snow storm.

However, it even better if a character's memorability is grounded in something more basic, like personality. I always remember Yugi Yamada's short story characters (it helps that they have a tendency to show up in other short stories and in full manga narratives). Yamada's Naoki Suzuki is funny, self-effacing, deliberately provocative (outside of his personal life), ostentatiously "flaming," slightly sarcastic though more kind than cruel . . . and so on.

Still, types are okay--so long as they are recognizable--as Red Letter Media points out in his trenchant criticism of Star Wars I (skip forward to 6:28)

Reason 3 to follow . . .