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
This begins a three-part series, written in reverse: this installment is the conclusion; over the next two months (on fourth Fridays), I’ll trace that conclusion back to its roots. It all swirls around an ongoing exploration that’s at the core of my writing (and teaching) practice: what is story – and how can we continue to make story new while honoring what it has always been?
It comes up a lot in fiction workshops as we work to make stories better. I want to know more about the girlfriend (lover/husband/dog). And it’s an honest reader reaction. But whenever I hear it, I ask a follow up question: why? Which is to say, how would background information about that character enhance your experience of the story?
I ask that follow-up because I’ve come to see that more often than not when readers make that request, they are really asking for something else – something deeper – and that writers who respond to the surface request ...
In more than 20 years as a fiction writer, my second-biggest claim to fame is a 2004 issue of Esquire that does not have fiction in it. And the fiction it doesn’t have in it is mine.
This post is less about what happened than it is about why it matters. But let’s start with what happened. A few years earlier, I’d had a story published in GQ. The fiction editor who’d chosen my story for GQ had, in the interim, become the fiction editor at Esquire. She called me and told me she wanted to publish a story of mine in her debut issue.
I am a writer, and therefore a thief.
Last week the most recent case in point. A Tweet of a line I liked, one that resonated and is likely percolating in my amoral brain even now: bad decisions I don’t regret. It was, I knew, the spawn of a conversation I’d had over a drink with a new friend. It was, in my mind, fair game. She didn’t fully share that perspective.
“Didn’t we kind of arrive at that phrase together?” I asked.