Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


What is the REAL story (Part 2)?

Please read last week’s post first. It’s a lead in to this one.

Lily Iona MacKenzie

Just as poets do, fiction writers have a rich, multiply textured tradition to draw from that includes more than the conventional narrative, and I haven’t even mentioned the fabulists and those writing metafictions.

In an article in The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates says,

…Carol Shields’ third collection of stories, Dressing Up for the Carnival, is an intelligent, provocative, and entertaining collection of variegated prose pieces, both conventional and unconventional…. [T]he majority are deftly, even sunnily written, and bristling with ideas, reminding us that fiction need not be emotionally devastating or ‘profound’ to be worthwhile (39).

Shields describes the process she went through in letting go of the rules of “what a story should be and how it must be shaped” in an essay entitled “Arriving Late, Starting Over.” After teaching the absolutes she learned in English Lit for years, she finally rebelled. She actually had no choice. Before she could go forward as a writer, she had to go back and release herself from the structure of the traditional story. It no longer was large or loose enough to allow in what had bubbled up in Various Miracles, her first collection of stories that she’d written in “a mood of reckless happiness” (245 & 246). They opened the way for Dressing Up for the Carnival.

While I enjoy reading all types of fiction, I don’t want to be captive of the realistic story. Reading and writing various story styles keeps me in touch with the strangeness, the unfathomable mysteries, of life. Realistic stories certainly can do this, too. But the stories I’m most attracted to view the world from an unusual angle, from what is invisible to ordinary consciousness—the content we often find in dreams (I’m thinking of Salman Rushdie’s work, as well as Reginald McKnights’, Jeffrey Renard Allen’s, Mark Danielewski’s, and especially Roberto Bolano).

Over the years, in the process of finding and accepting my particular preferences as a writer, I’ve had to teach myself what I didn’t find in the academy. At those times it’s been helpful to remember Eudora’s Welty’s admonition:

Writing is such an internal, interior thing that it can hardly be reached by you, much less by another person. I can’t tell you how to write, no more than you can tell me. We’re all different from one another even in the way we breathe. Writers must learn to trust themselves. (Dawson 27)

Yet this kind of trust doesn’t come easily. However, we’ll never discover in our fellow writers or ourselves what we’re capable of if we don’t consciously release these expectations and enlarge our repertoire. As writers and teachers, we need to be more aware of the range we have available to us so we don’t limit our own or others’ imaginations.

Works Cited

Chase, Richard. The American Novel and Its Tradition. New York: Anchor Books, 1957, p. 12. Print.

Ibid, p 13.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “An Endangered Species,” The New York Review of Books, June 29, 2000, p. 39. Print.

Shields, Carol. “Arriving Late, Starting Over.” Metcalf, John and Struthers, J.R. (Tim), ed. How Stories Mean. Erin, Ontario: The Porcupine’s Quill, 1993, p. 245 & 246. Print.

Dawson, Marie. “An Interview with Eudora Welty.” Poets & Writers Magazine. September/ October 1997, p. 27. Print.

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