Thursday, January 17, 2008

Another teaching day--The Plot Thickens

Here's the story we're reading and discussing today in class.

I read it last summer in the New Yorker and thought it would make a provocative story in my Writing Fiction class this semester. These students are undergrads who've had a couple of creative writing classes before.

So much of the time, in classes like this, they read more traditional stories by writers who are well-established in anthologies--Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Bobbi Ann Mason, Flannery O'Conner. All great writers. But I thought it would be interesting to discuss a story that was published within the last year in a major U.S. magazine.

We're going to try to talk about plot in the story, asking the question: "What is the glue that holds all these events together?" Or another way to put it: "What sets off the story in the first place, what lights its fuse and what keeps the various scenes and moments in the story connected to each other?

Plot isn't the most important thing to master in story writing, but it's up there near the top with character development, theme, dialog and development of a relevant setting, just to name a few ingredients.

If the connective tissue between events isn't there, or it's implausible, or if one action follows another action because of some coincidence, eventually the whole story can lose credibility. It's a tough discipline to master, and one even professional writers struggle with.

Notice, for instance, how the music Jack listens to on the car radio(a random song) sets off a chain of recollections that are both relevant and revealing, and ultimately cause Jack to reach a small ephipany, or revelation.

And when he starts to watch the film itself, the narrative of the movie pushes him to further discoveries about his past and his relationship with his vanished lover.

I'm not sure how the students are going to react. This is always part of the excitement of teaching. When I'm using a completely new story in class to illustrate a point, walking on brand new ground, rather than using a tried and true story that I've taught a dozen times before, I'm always a little anxious. And since this is only the second class, and since I talked way too much last class, I'm going to depend on the students to carry the discussion tonight--and one of my objectives is simply to get to know who they are, and allow them to learn about each other. To bond.

The other story we're doing tonight is Alice Munro's "How I Met My Husband" a jewel of a story, and one in which the plot is much more easily described. It's often said that there are only two plots: A stranger comes to town. And: A person goes on a journey. Munro's story is about the stranger coming to town, and how his sudden appearance changes peoples' lives. It's wonderful story.

As luck would have it, Dybek's story features a Kevin Costner movie, Open Range, a cowboy yarn. And last night we watched the first half of 310 to Yuma (before we got sleepy and had to shut it down.) It's a rough and violent movie with Russell Crowe and Chistian Bale. It uses a lot of the same cowboy cliches that Dybek's short story makes fun of, but those cliches are beautifully acted and made original through little flourishes in dialog and plotting.

Good movie. Can't wait to finish it.

And then my Kindle arrived yesterday. I started playing with it and have mastered the basics already. I read some sample chapters from various books downloaded from Amazon. The wireless system works better in my thick-walled house than my super duper cell phone does.

It looks very promising, but already I can see a little problem. It's super slim and easy to carry. But there are page forward buttons and page back buttons running down each side, just where you would ordinarily hold the unit.

I was constantly turning pages forward and back when I didn't mean to. And the leather folder (made in China) isn't crafted as well as it might be, so I haven't quite found the best way to hold the unit while reading.

Otherwise, I'm still very excited by it.

No comments: