Chapter 3 – Part 7 – Looking Outside In or Inside Out

I’ve always loved the idea of an inciting incident. What has changed that makes this story important now? Whatever it is, that’s the inciting incident. We looked at how authors chose motifs to demonstrate the main idea of their story, how they showed changes in time, changes in character, changes in everything else.

There were other ways to look at stories too. We weren’t always in agreement about why Munro showed us her characters in a certain way and in a certain situation. And what was this new idea of trying to change a reader? Was it really such a new idea? I wanted to experiment with all of the techniques I’d seen in the stories and find new ways of using them in my stories.

In the next section of the class, we discussed poetry by Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Hugo, Heather McHugh, and Anthony Hecht. What makes it poetry, our teacher asked? Rhythm was the obvious choice. The verbal contraptions as my teacher called it, the selection of words, phrases for emphasis, tone, meaning to produce the desired response in the reader were all important. The feeling conveyed to the reader seemed to be the most important aspect of the poetry we read.

The poets created questions and answers. How did they use their titles to convey meaning? Each poet we studied had a distinctly different way that they approached their work and for those of us who had not studied poetry before, we could see the similarities between poetry and prose in the use of setting, how a question could be posed, the use of setting, the choice of ideological details or motifs, the use of changes in characters, the importance of tone.

Then it was time to get back to prose and I promised myself that I would read more poetry on my own and find time to take a poetry course.

There were so many different things we could learn from all the literature we were studying, I knew that I would have to do a lot more reading. Historical reference was the next way we looked at literature. If we understood how it developed, we could be better able to understand the stories and books that were being written today.  The idea that the development of literature happened in response to changes in society fascinated me. It made sense, almost too much sense. We talked about how the old epics such as Homer’s Illiad were about the upper classes and we only saw the more common man in Greek comedy. When the novel first emerged as Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, it was considered “bourgeois” by the aristocracy because the main character was a common man wishing to be a knight.

Later, with the emergence of Marx and Freud, characters had to be individuals and fully-realized characters. What we were seeing in the stories we studied, demonstrated how literature had divided into two main camps. In the first one, authors showed the character from the outside like we’d seen with Wolff. Alice Munro demonstrated how we could see the characters from their point of view – a whole other choice to make when writing our own fiction.


About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
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