Saturday, June 12, 2010

Emotional Arc of Your Story--How Act 1 and Act 2 Create Rhythm a Reader Will Follow

I've been reading Amy Bloom's new book, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, a collection of interrelated short stories that form a sort of novel.  Although a few stories were published in earlier collections, this grouping takes the characters another step.

I like practically everything I've read of Bloom's work.  I appreciate the intricate weavings she manages, and I often recommend her to students struggling with character and pacing.

There's a trend in publishing right now of such collections, sometimes called story cycles.  Olive Kitteridge won much attention last year; it's a group of stories about a small town in Maine and a fierce retired schoolteacher.  It's tricky to create a story cycle that keeps the reader engaged as well as a novel, leaving us wanting to dive into the next chapter without hesitation once we finish one story.  Short stories by their nature are complete in themselves.  But a story cycle must release some of that finished feel and create a whole-book rhythm.

In Olive Kitteridge, author Elizabeth Strout stays with the traditional rules--a group of characters, a single place--which gives sense to the collection.  Olive builds a strong emotional arc and can be looked at as a three-act structure without much difficulty.  Act 1 sets the stage for

Sunday, June 6, 2010

When Bad Things Happen to Us or to Others--Dealing with Deep Emotion in Your Writing

I was in my forties when I experienced my first up-close-and-personal death.  Elderly relatives passed away when I was younger, but I was young, and although I missed them, often terribly, the deaths didn't have the same impact as when a close contemporary died.

Jan was not a close friend, but she was a person I admired.  She was intensely creative, a quilter and artist, and I liked how her creativity seeped onto everything she touched.  I felt privileged to know her.

She and I had lunch about six months before she died, quite suddenly, of cancer.  She survived treatments for breast cancer, was dealing with bone cancer, and carried a cane.  We met for lunch in a restaurant called the Good Earth, and each of us ordered a big salad.  I remember how Jan's cane hung across the back of her chair; I remember how its silver tip caught the overhead lights.