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Wednesday, February 29, 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 just had to include Todd McLellan's disassembled typewriter in this post. This picture makes me think of everything writers put into a story. The elements that go unseen, the gears that move the plot along, the springs that tighten and release genius. By the time the stories are ready for reading, all of these elements are hidden; they are packed away tightly inside a smooth rectangle and only the pretty parts are visible.

When writing a story in an unusual form, it is helpful to imagine spreading all of the elements of that particular story across an open surface. I make sure to include the inner elements, the invisible ones, along with the physical ones. What would these elements look like? There would be plot, theme, character/s, tone, style, the list goes on. The intangible nature of fiction is part of its beauty and is also what makes it so difficult to execute properly. I always try to keep what the story is trying to say, its emotional resonance, in mind. The form should speak to that.

Keeping this in mind, I thought it appropriate to recommend a story that takes formal cues from a game and incorporates it into the plot. Caitlin Horrocks, former Hayden's Ferry Review editor and author of This Is Not Your City, examines the hardships of frontier life along the Oregon Trail. In her short story, On the Oregon Trail, Horrocks uses the early 80's computer game Oregon Trail as a plot form to tell her narrative. This story appeared in Hobart's January 09' issue.


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