The Sliding Scale of Narrative Distance

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October 24, 2015 | Ron MacLean

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Denis Johnson is one of those writers I read over and over, and learn something every time. I recently assigned his classic story “Emergency” to students, and suggested we analyze it in terms of plot. More specifically, through the lens of Charles Baxter’s notion of “Captain Happen.”

In his talk on “Momentum and Urgency” at the Muse and the Marketplace conference last May, Baxter listed half a dozen devices “to get a story going and keep it going.” Captain Happen was one of those, described as “a focusing agent that makes things happen.” I thought it would ...

September 26, 2015 | Ron MacLean

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The Power of Scary Stories

Why am I drawn to scary stories? Because they're hard to write well, and challenge is always attractive to me. But also because fear is primal. Fear is part of who we are (or at least part of who I am), and I'm interested, more and more, in how people respond to what terrifies them. Psychological terror intrigues me most. I'm less interested in blood on the page than I am in perceived danger that might or might not be true

May 22, 2015 | Ron MacLean

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Unity of Opposites: A Storytelling Model

(Part 3 in an erratic series)

Structure is something many writers, especially short story writers, aren’t conscious of. If we are, most likely it’s in the form of the story curve – the classical approach to defining narrative structure – that’s been burned into our consciousness

For decades, the Fichtean curve almost exclusively defined the short story

April 24, 2015 | Ron MacLean

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What Is Story? A Journey of Understanding, Part 2

Like any evolving human, my perspective changes with time on some of the questions that preoccupy me. One of those that’s been changing (again) recently is my engagement with the question, “what is story?”

It’s been a long time since I fully subscribed to the Fichtean curve, or to a purely plot-based Aristotelian vision of conflict-complication-climax as the only (or even primary) definition of story

February 27, 2015 | Ron MacLean

Craft Advice