Day 10 VCCA: Payoff in Process (Cont’d)

News Flash: THE CLAW and I were featured on “View from the Keyboard” this week! 

I began by studying
Lorraine Adams’ latest collection of interconnected short stories, The Room and Chair. To study
characterization I found I had to study transitions. How did a writer get in
and out of dense narrative passages? What circumstances had to surround a tell-all
sentence in order for it to feel convincing? I compiled a list of sentence
starters that I believed might help me work my characterization muscles. Here
are a few examples that I wrote down in Texas, and now they’re on my studio
wall here at VCCA:

“If she could just…[into

“But maybe it had always
been that way…It upset him…”

“Anyone would rather

“She tried to imagine…”

Once at VCCA, I started a
new list of similar sentence starters lifted from my study of Ron Rash’s
excellent novel, The World Made Straight: 

“What held Travis’
attention was…”

“When he was a child…”

“He looked at her

These quotes may seem
inconsequential on their own, but to me they represent possibility. These are
all doors I can walk through with my stories, each opener like a prompt itself.
I changed what I needed to for my own characters and their circumstances, so
what I ended up using in my work hardly resembles the source, but looking back
over my own drafts I can see the traces of how I have been teaching myself to
get from, point A to point B. It feels good. 

(Part 1 of this essay can be read here. Part 3 will be published on Sunday…)

Showing 2 comments
  • Heidi Willis

    This is great! I wrote a commentary very similar this semester and am thinking of turning it into my essay.

    Mary Helen Stefaniak gave a fantastic craft talk on the word "Once," and how that little word opens the door for a writer to introduce a specific memory, flashback, piece of information, characterization, or mini-scene to deepen the narrative. It's worked wonders for my writing!

    I think what you show here, above all, is how deliberate good writing is. We could just sit and write, but when we study it, we can develop tools that make our writing so much better.

  • Kyle Lang

    I'm slowly coming to adore sentence frames and the power they can unlock in a piece of writing. I've recently encountered two exercises from colleagues that deal with this very issue.

    Thanks for validating my thinking on this.

    I too remember Mary Helen Stefaniak lecturing on the power of once. I found the lecture stirring and full of possibility, but I think recent developments in my reading/teaching/research have actually deepened those lessons. Thanks for the reminder, Heidi.

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