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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fiction Dismantled

Photo by Todd McLellan
See his Disassembly collection here.

As an intern for the Piper House, I read a lot of  stories submitted to Hayden's Ferry Review. When I'm six stories deep, running on coffee fumes and chocolate-covered espresso beans, form stories ignite my curiosity and pull me in. There is something attractive about a story that looks like a list, or a series of dictionary entries, or even a water bill. Postmodern experimental fiction allows readers to experience the emotional range of the traditional narrative through a fresh perspective while allowing writers to explore and experiment in their craft with a new flexibility.

I think the process of creating a form is a bit like dismantling a clock. Essentially, you're taking elements of the story—important elements integral to the heart of the piece, such as objects or themes—and using them to communicate the story in a fresh and entertaining way. My writing teachers all tell me that everything has to be earned. That, "if I remove one element, the entire story should fall apart. If not, it hasn't earned its spot." The same is true for a clock. Each part has to work in perfect harmony with the others, or else we lose time.

Here's one:

Hannah Wood's telling of Romeo and Juliet, in Blackbird's Fall 2011 Vol. 10 No. 2 issue, is a fresh and entertaining version of the classic. The story takes the shape of a science experiment that tests the strength of love. Wood adds versatility to her version by measuring the infamous duo against several other power couples, ranging from Daisy and Gatsby to Lancelot and Guinevere. For clarity (and some color), Wood offers a Venn diagram and an ionic bonding chart to illustrate their chemical behavior in any situation.

Working on a form story? Have a favorite story that plays with form? Post them in the comments below. I'll be sharing my favorites in this regular post. Currently, I'm working on submitting applications to graduate programs, so I'm considering writing a story through a personal statement or a gratuitously long and obsessively intrusive application...


Superstition Review said...

Form fiction really does catch the eye of an editor. I've seen a few that take the form of recipes, or disembodied dialogue. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's incredible.

MurphDogg said...

Yes! Recipes, that's a good one. *Like*

Ana said...

I've been toying with this structure recently, and somehow I can't shake the feeling that I'm evading having to create a traditional narrative by doing it.

Any thoughts or drops of wisdom?

MurphDogg said...

@ Ana:
Writing a form story is, in several ways, much more difficult than writing a traditional narrative. At least most of the time. We have to incorporate critical information in an unconventional way. My forms instructor would probably say, follow your instincts. There is a reason you want to put this story into this form.

I think that is good advice. Sometimes as writers, I think we put too much pressure on ourselves. If the form doesn't work out, in the end, that's fine. Writing a draft of the story, in a form, might add an element to to it, that the story might not otherwise have had. Even if it is just a piece of dialogue or a great sentence. That makes it worth while, in my opinion.

In any case, I hope that everything works out for your story.