the story dictated the style

Today at Fictionaut’s Monday Chat, Kathy Fish[1] talks to Susan Tepper[2] about her story WREATH from Tepper’s flash novella “From The Umberplatzen”. This is the most beautiful conversation on some of the most important topics drawing on the immense experience of these short form masters. I particularly appreciated the comments on dialogue, punctuation (or lack thereof) and channeling. All of what Susan says is commensurable with what I’ve heard other writers say when they were in the grip of birthing something beyond rational planning. It seems to me that the short form is well-suited to this manner of writing. Only the other day I found out that even the mystery novels of Raymond Chandler were composed as a sequence of flash pieces[3]. And I believe that Robert Graves said similar things about the White Goddess, an altogether completely different work[4]. Tepper’s “The story dictated the style” is memorable: the metaphorical place of the Umberplatzen and the two central characters seem too act as the three corners of a God triangle driving the story. It makes me think of my own and others’ seemingly desperate attempts to impose plot on a story, even though the plot is the pinnacle of junk writing: I’m saying this respectfully as someone who is largely plotless but who secretly tries to learn the art of the plot from hack Bibles like Plotto[5].


Notes: [1] Kathy Fish’s short fiction collection  Together We Can Bury It is forthcoming in September from The Lit Pub. Her collection Wild Life is available from Matter Press.  [2]  Susan Tepper’s  last book is “From The Umberplatzen”  from Wilderness House Press.  [3] see the excellent new biography of Chandler by Tom Williams,  A Mysterious Something In the Light.  [4]  The eminent British poet and novelist Robert Graves claimed that  he had channeled The White Goddess, a mysterious work of poetic genius, which every lover of language ought to check out.  I found that the book itself put me in the kind of trance that I presume it was created in. [5] “Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots” could also be called “the monster book of all plots”. It’s a repository of 1,492 plots organized by character, conflict and plot types, written in 1928 by prolific hack writer William Wallace Cook and reissued this year by Tinhouse. I do indeed read this book furtively, almost under the covers, in the small hours, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. I believe it even helps me… 

4 thoughts on “the story dictated the style

  1. Great comments here and at Fictionaut, Marcus. I didn’t think about place as being that dramatic “third” in addition to the three characters – what is needed to drive along the story. Long time no talk. I’m happily “following” you again. Take care. Meg aka “Gry”

    • Hi Meg, good to see you here (again)! I think it was Susan’s remark on the Umberplatzen (tree) as a metaphor that made me think in this direction. As well as an analysis of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment by John Jones who points out that St. Petersburg is almost like a character in its own right in the book. Only another writer (like Jones) could have observed that. In any case, when one does not write plot driven narratives, substitutes must be found, and a strong theme (like dislocated love as in Tepper’s book) might just do it. Chandler, whom I’m reading currently, performs a similar trick using Los Angeles as a place/theme. Perhaps one would think that a murder mystery must be plot heavy, but obviously that’s not so: all of his fantastic novels rest upon character and place.

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