In later classes, we analyzed stories by Tobias Wolff such as “Coming Attractions”, “Desert Breakdown”, “The Rich Brother”, and “Soldiers Joy”. We talked about the structure of the stories in terms of both Freytag’s Pyramid and the narrative cycle theory Green World. My notes are full of flow charts showing the steps Wolff used to create the narrative.
For each story, we decided how the tension was developed as well as who the main character was, what they wanted using the Green World narrative theory, and what “Green World” was in the story-the state of equilibrium. At the time, it seemed simple enough. Something happens and the main character’s world goes out of whack. That can happen off stage or on stage. Our character wants the situation to go back into “equilibrium” or go back to the status quo. Maybe that will happen, or maybe the result will be something different. During these stories, it occurred to me that Wolff frequently used three complications to develop his story and I started looking for that pattern in other stories.
Alice Munro’s stories came next. We spent a lot of time looking at characterization and description. What did the character do? What did the character say? What did they look like and what kind of things did they own? What did other people say about them? We read “The Dance of the Happy Shades”, “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You”, “Wild Swans”, “The Moons of Jupiter”, “The Progress of Love”, “Miles City, Montana”, “Friend of My Youth”, and “Meneseteung”. They were good examples of how we could portray characters and how creating a character could be the starting point for our stories.
Probably the most important survival technique that I learned during this segment of the class was that we weren’t analyzing the stories to determine what they had said or what they meant. We were analyzing the stories to see how the authors crafted the story and how they choose a certain character’s point of view and events to illustrate the main idea of the story.
In our first discussions, we argued about what the story meant and later, some of the students were still focused on whether or not they liked a story. It’s hard not to give an opinion of what the story is about. After all that’s what all of us had talked about in our English classes. But we were there to learn how the stories were written. We weren’t there to say if we liked the story or not. If they weren’t our favorite authors, they still knew much, much more than we did about putting a story together and that was the point of reading their work. The teach was very patient as we learned what we were supposed to be looking for and eventually I think he got through to most of the students.
Throughout the course, all of us experienced the same thing that I did with a few Munro stories. They found a story, a technique, or an author that they didn’t particularly like. Yet with each piece of literature, there were different techniques to explore, different ways of developing the theme of the story.