Micro Lesson: Building the Story with Kirsten Lunstrum

Posted Fri, 4/29/2016 - 12:05pm by  |  Category:

Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum’s Building the Story will begin May 7. Register now!

1.    What we will be reading:

We’ll read both a book on craft (the gold standard for fiction writing—Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Narrative Guide to Craft) and a host of example stories (from several sources, but primarily from our second course text, Ben Marcus’s anthology New American Stories). Our example stories will range wildly in voice, form, and structure. Here are three first sentences from our texts to give you a tiny taste of what’s to come in this class:

“This was the month that people began to suspect that terrorists had infiltrated Middle America, set up underground tunnels in the rural areas, like gophers.” (From Tao Lin’s “Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money Than There Exists”)

“We walked across the highway bridge, thirty-nine of us in jumpsuits and tennis sneakers, with guards front and back and at the flanks, six in all.” (From Don DeLillo’s “Hammer and Sickle”)

“The day I got my period, my mother and father took me to pick my madman.” (From Lucy Corin’s “Madmen”)

2.    An example exercise:

Our exercises will be opportunities to more deeply explore and understand each element of fiction (character, setting, point of view, voice, etc.). One exercise on character, for example, will ask you to write three short scenes from your character’s life: a scene from childhood, a scene from adolescence, and a scene from old age. Through writing these scenes (which may or may not end up in your story), you’ll come to know your character more fully. A second exercise—this one focused on point of view—will ask you to rewrite these scenes from the vantage point of a different (but related) character. Together, we’ll reflect on what has emerged from both exercises. (What did you have to change about your setting descriptions in rewriting the same scene from a new character’s point of view? How did your plot change when you looked at the same series of events through a different character’s eyes?) We’ll mine these exercises for their gems as we work to build full story drafts.

3.    A moment of advice:

Short stories (though their brevity may suggest otherwise) are intricate and complex, and their attraction (for the short-story writer and reader) is the discovery of that complexity. I’m excited about the ten-week structure of this class, which will allow us the luxury of time to uncover, excavate, and really discover our stories!

4. Other reading recommendations for the short-story writer:

As I write, I return and return to a handful of story collections—essential models of the form for me. Here’s a shortlist for your extracurricular reading:

Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women
James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man
Mavis Gallant’s The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant
Yiyun Li’s Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
Kate Walbert’s Our Kind
Gina Berriault’s Women in Their Beds