It is not my job to explain the story or understand the story or reduce it to a phrase or offer it as being a story about any specific person, place, or thing. My job is to have been true enough to the world of my story that I was able to present it as a forceful and convincing drama. Every story is a kind of puzzle. Many have obvious solutions, and some have no solution at all. We write to present questions, sometimes complicated questions, not to offer easy or not-so-easy answers. Do not be misled by the limited vocabulary the American marketplace uses to describe the possibilities for story and drama. If we're really writing we are exploring the unnamed emotional facets of the human heart. Not all emotions, not all states of mind have been named. Nor are all the names we have been given always accurate. The literary story is a story that deals with the complicated human heart with an honest tolerance for the ambiguity in which we live. No good guys, no bad guys, just guys: that is, people bearing up the crucible of their days and certainly not always-if ever-capable of articulating their condition.
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Can writing ever be taught? The best answer to that was given obliquely by the rock musician David Lee Roth. When asked if money could buy happiness he said, no, but with money you could buy the big boat and go right up to where the people were happy. With a teacher you can go right up to where the writing is done; the leap is made alone with vision, subject, passion, and instinct. So a writer comes to the page with vision in her heart and craft in her hands and a sense of what a story might be in her head. How do the three come together? My thesis is the old one: they merge in the physical writing-inside the act of writing, not from the outside. The process is the teacher.
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I tell students, when in doubt, to title their story after the smallest concrete object in their story. I warn them off plays on words, ('The Rent Also Rises'-no; 'Life in My Cat House'-no) and no grand reaches, either. 'Reverence, ' 'Respect, ' 'Regret, ' 'Greed, ' 'Adventure, ' 'Retribution.' And never use the worst title of all time, 'The Gift, ' a story I read six times a year.
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We live in a society that doesn't offer any support or appreciation for ventures that aren't clearly articulated and aligned for a goal. A writer gets past this. It's going to be a mess before you're finished, and you may not have a name for the mess or understand its utilitarian purposes. There aren't words for everything. For now, we'll call it the draft of a story.
The literary story is a story that deals with the complicated human heart with an honest tolerance for the ambiguity in which we live. No good guys, no bad guys, just guys: that is, people bearing up in the crucible of their days and certainly not always - if ever - capable of articulating their condition.
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I was a good college kid, all-American and baseball-playing, living in the dorms with a million barbarians. I did not expect to be claimed by Fitzgerald hook, line, and sinker. 'This Side of Paradise' - that sweet, sophomoric pastiche of notes, scenes, poetry, and plays - I felt like he'd written the book just for me.
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