Introducing the Short Story Showcase: “Common Knowledge”

Welcome to the Short Story Showcase!  This is going to be a weekly (every Wednesday for at least the next six months) series of short story reviews…with a bit of a twist.  

There are lots of fantastic stories out there, and there are lots of people more experienced than I who can help you find those stories.  So, rather than identifying great stories, I want to get under the hood and discuss what makes them great from a technical perspective.  Basically, these are the stories that make me, as a writer, sit up and say, “That was clever!  How did they do that?”

I’m going to try to visit as many different publications (mostly semi-pro) as I can in the process, but over time you might notice me focusing on some more than others.  That’s not because they’re necessarily any better, but rather because I know Charles Payseur and the great team at SFF Reviews aren’t able to cover them and I want to help draw attention to the excellent work they publish.  

To kick it off, let’s take a look at “Common Knowledge,” by A. E. Decker and published in The Sockdolager.  This story does so many things so well that it’s hard to know where to begin analyzing it, but I think they all boil down to an incredible attention to detail.

Although you might be tempted (like me) to assume the main character is the stock Noyes highwayman, that assumption won’t last more than a few sentences into the story.  Each character has a strong sense of individuality, even the ones who only get mentioned in passing.  (Left nostril guy is my favorite of that bunch.)  Decker clearly spent a lot of time on them, and the effect is well worth it.  This world lives and breathes.

It’s also fun.  I don’t think I can overemphasize that.  Very few authors capture the sense of playful fun with others that most of us have to at least some degree in our lives.  To them, everything is always important, but sometimes the most important moments of all are the mundane ones.  Think of how hard Joss Whedon had to try to work the farmhouse scene into Avengers 2 and you’ll see what I mean.  Fun is hard to capture on paper, but it’s essential to life, and Decker nails it.

Finally, the story is meticulously plotted and rewards careful reading.  Almost nothing is a throwaway line or joke, but rather a set-up for a plot point or much funnier joke much later in the story.  One small example (I don’t want to spoil too much) is the reason for not talking while cantering.  It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line halfway in that sets up a great joke near the end, and the story is full of those moments.  I’ve read it twice today, and the second reading was even more rewarding than the first.

So check it out!  It’s worth a close read.