Excellent salon last night: our guest was the poet, short-story writer and novelist Wayne Price who read memorably from his work. At the earlier workshop, he gave us insights into the art of short-story writing.
‘What are stories made of?’ he asked. Not primarily words, lives, emotions, actions, truth, he told us, but time. If a narrative is to work, there must be momentum, dynamism, forward-movement. According to Kierkegaard, we live forward, but we understand backward. This is also true of narrative – understanding happens retrospectively, as we reflect.
But the momentum of narrative is not enough to sustain the reader’s interest, Wayne continued. The story needs texture to give the reader sensory stimulus, so that her creative input is involved. He quoted Virginia Woolf, writing of the search for meaning in life. There was no great revelation, but ‘instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.’ The texture in a story is like a match struck in the dark, not revealing everything, but giving the reader shadows which must be interpreted.
The story writer must, therefore achieve a balance between momentum, and texture. Wayne concluded by sharing some examples from well-known authors.
For example, this from The use of force by William Carlos Williams:
They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olson. Please come down as soon as you can, my daughter is very sick.
A few terse words, kicking off the narrative momentum. But how much more there is in these words. The speaker (we deduce) is a GP. What’s happened to the Olsons’ daughter? Why was this their first contact with the doctor? Had they newly moved in to the area, or were they passing through, or had they had a bad experience with a previous medic? These questions draw us forward into the story……
Many thanks Wayne, for an inspiring evening.
(The picture shows Wayne Price - on the right - with HLS Chair Paul Shanks)