Epistemological storytelling

There’s something epistemological about storytelling. It’s the way we know each other, the way we know ourselves, the way we know the world. It’s also the way we don’t know: the way the world is kept from us, the way we’re kept from knowledge about ourselves, the way we’re kept from understanding other people.

–Andrea Barrett

Creatures of narrative

Memory, according to Bergson, occupies the space between mind and body. It conveys mind to body and body to mind. It gives us our quality of life—makes possible, in other words, the narrative that keeps our lives going forward to the next thing. If the thing is not next it loses its richness—isolated and unlinked to a history, it becomes meaningless, even ridiculous. Biologically and neurologically, we are creatures of context, of narrative. . . . By nature, then, the activity of the neuron is narrative, metonymic, associative.

–Karen Brennan

Toward one hundred words

I’ve been obsessing with 100-word stories lately. I might try to publish a manuscript of 100 100-word stories someday. This has led to editing and cutting many of the fragments, already very short, I’ve been able to find among my unfinished work. Keeping many of the drafts shows some of the decisions made as I’ve revised. One example is below. Word totals follow the title.

Looking for Honey 254

Honey lived two places while I knew her. Sort of remember wanting to offer to help her move, but I’m almost certain I never did.

One was this beautiful big green house. It was big enough to have its own parking lot. Three stories, surrounded by venerable fifty-foot oaks. A wide, thick lawn. She had at least two roommates there, but I think her bed was a thin twin mattress against a wall of the living room. She would roll it up and hide it away during the day, I imagine. Their kitchen was tiny, but you could stand in the fireplace. The rest of the house was full of similar apartments.

The other house was much smaller, one story, two bedrooms. The kitchen was bigger and she had her own room, but to get to it you had to walk through the only bathroom in the house. Must have made some awkward moments. I house sat there for a few days while she went to the Grand Canyon, house sat and tried to squirt antibiotics down a tube in the throat of her cat. The cat did not like me. But the bathroom had a tub and my baths there were a luxury.

Almost five years later, the big house is still easy to find, but the other house has gone missing. I drive the streets of this town I never wanted to come back to, wandering where I think the house used to be, but I never find it.

 

Looking for Honey 171

Honey lived two places while I knew her.

One was this beautiful green house. Big enough to have its own parking lot, three stories, venerable fifty-foot oaks. She had two roommates there, but her bed was a twin mattress against a wall of the living room. She hid it in a closet during the day. Tiny kitchen, but we could stand in the fireplace.

The other house was much smaller, one story, two bedrooms. She had her own room, but to get to it you had to walk through the only bathroom in the house. Once I housesat for a few days, trying to squirt antibiotics down her cat’s throat. That cat did not like me. But the bathroom had a tub and my baths there were a luxury.

Five years later, the big house is easily found, but the other house is missing. I drive the streets of a town I never wanted to come back to, wandering where I think her house used to be. I never find it.

 

Looking for Honey 146

Honey lived two places while I knew her.

One, a beautiful green house. Big enough to have its own parking lot, three stories, venerable fifty-foot oaks. She had two roommates there, but her bed was a twin mattress against a wall of the living room. She hid it in a closet during the day. Tiny kitchen, but we could stand in the fireplace.

The other was much smaller. Her own room. To get to it you had to walk through the only bathroom in the house. Once I housesat, trying to squirt antibiotics down her cat’s throat. That cat did not like me. But the bathroom had a tub and my baths there were a luxury.

Five years later, the big house is easily found, but the other house is missing. I drive the streets, wandering where I think her house was. I never find it.

 

Looking for Honey 123

Honey lived two places when I knew her.

One, a beautiful green house. Three stories, fifty-foot oaks, big enough for its own parking lot. Three roommates. Her bed a twin mattress against a living room wall, hidden in a closet during the day. Tiny kitchen, but we stood in the fireplace.

The other was much smaller. You had to walk through the only bathroom in the house to get to her room. Once I housesat, tried to squirt antibiotics down her cat’s throat each day. That cat did not like me. The tub made baths there a luxury.

Decades later, the big house is easily found, but the other house is missing. Wandering where I think her house was, I never find it.

 

Honey Lived Two Places When I Knew Her 106

One, a beautiful green house. Three stories, fifty-foot oaks, big enough for its own parking lot. Three roommates. Her bed a twin mattress against a living room wall, hidden in a closet during the day.

The other place was much smaller. You walked through the only bathroom in the house to get to her room. Once I housesat, assigned to squirt antibiotics down her cat’s throat each day. That cat did not like me. The tub made baths there a luxury.

Decades later, the big house is easily found, but the other house is missing. Wandering where I think her house was, I never find it.

 

Honey Lived Two Places When I Knew Her 100

One, a beautiful olive house. Three stories, fifty-foot oaks, big enough for its own parking lot. Three roommates. Her bed a twin mattress against a living room wall, hidden in a closet during daylight.

The other place was much smaller. You walked through the only bathroom in the house to get to her room. Once I housesat, assigned to squirt antibiotics down her cat’s throat each day. That cat hated me. The tub made baths a luxury.

Decades later, the big house is easily found. The other is missing. Wandering where I think her house was, I never find it.

 

Defining story

Four quick paraphrases:

 

Algis Budrys:

  1. A character,
  2. in a situation,
  3. with a problem,
  4. who tries repeatedly to solve the problem,
  5. but repeatedly fails, (usually making the problem worse),
  6. then, at the climax of the story, makes a final attempt (which might either succeed or fail, depending on the kind of story it is), after which
  7. the result is “validated” in a way that makes it clear that what readers saw was, in fact, the final result.

 

Geoffrey A. Landis:

  1. Require the character to make a choice,
  2. show that choice through actions, and
  3. let those actions have consequences.

 

Jim Shooter:

Introduce the character (“Little Miss Muffett . . .”), introduce the status quo (“sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey”). Establish the antagonist and conflict (“Along came a spider”), build suspense (“and sat down beside her”), increase the conflict (“and frightened Miss Muffet”), and resolve the conflict and provide a denouement all at once (“away”).

 

Steve Barthelme:

A story follows an active character through emotionally charged experiences which change him or her.