All three of the structures were based on building tension utilizing the structure of your plot – rising and falling action; character structure – how a character changes; and an ideological structure – choosing the events/situations/details or motifs that best represent the controlling idea of the story. Each choice made by the author needed to contribute and fit with their other choices making our stories and novels whole.
I always like saying to my students that their fiction should be well-rounded, meaning that there shouldn’t be anything that draws too much attention to itself or feels too abrupt. The reader should also have a feeling of completion at the end of a piece even if they are left with questions about what might happen next. A good example of this feeling of “roundness” are the short stories in the New Yorker which always have a nice “soft” landing even though they don’t tie up all of the loose ends. The endings have always given me a sense of satisfaction which is way too hard to describe so it’s best to read a few of the stories they publish and see if you agree.
So here we were, learning about all the choices we could make and getting an idea of how we might put them together but that old nagging question, can writing be taught, kept popping into my mind. And if you can’t be taught to write, then why are we in this program?
Like most of those big questions, I knew that I wasn’t going to come close to knowing the answer until I learned a lot more. When I started the program, I didn’t have any idea of how much I didn’t know. What had I learned so far? In some ways it was a lot but at the time it didn’t seem like that much. Wolff put plot above other literary elements. Munro put characters first. Later, when I was reading Eudora Welty on my own, I added another choice to this list, putting setting first. Now all I had to decide was what was most important in the story I was writing.
I’m all for creating master plans as my diary about going to graduate school proves. Who else but an obsessive planner would think there might be some value in a diary about school? At this point, I decided that I would experiment with my writing, mixing everything up, focusing on different aspects in different stories. I knew that the stories I’d written so far put plot first. Did everything that I had used in the books that I’d written fit together as they should? I felt like I tell someone everything about the stories we had talked about in class but applying that knowledge was something that would take a lot of practice.