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Friday, 2 November 2012

Work for Week Eight



All texts in one way or another involve a ‘story’. In poems and some life writing this story may be hidden, but even so we need to bear in mind the basic story structure.

·         Normal situation
·         Upset to normal situation leading to –
·         Problem
·         Sorting out problem leading to -
·         Resolution

We’re focusing this week on the ‘resolution’ or ‘ending’ of the story or poem, or chapter, or anecdote.   In one way or another this ending must be a surprise.   What you’re writing will not be very effective if the reader can guess what the ending is going to be.

The surprise at the end of your text may be ‘narrative’  or ‘psychological’. 

If it’s narrative, then the story will take a sudden unexpected twist from the point of view of the events.   It is suddenly revealed that the person or thing we thought was the cause of the problem is not the cause of the problem.  It’s someone or something we’d not expected.  A good example of this kind of story is The Necklace’ by Guy de Maupassant.   You can find this at

If it’s a psychological ending, then the unexpected twist is how the main character suddenly  realizes something.    It’s not that events have changed, but they have come to ‘see’ more clearly.   This realization is sometimes called an ‘epiphany’.   A good example of this kind of story is Miss Brill, by Katherine Mansfield.  You can find this at

Some texts combine both.   An example is the famous story of The Ugly Duckling.   Here the twist at the end is both a matter of fact, that is, that he’s not a duckling at all;  and also that he can now feel good about himself because swans are more beautiful than ducks.  They are the ‘ugly’ ones, not him.

The twist at the end of a text depends on making the reader expect one thing, but then making something else happen.   We have been made to think that this poor duckling has dreadful problems because he’s not up to the mark, and we’re wondering how he can get over this ‘runt’ status.  But the resolution of the problem comes about by ‘moving the goal-posts’, as it were.  He’s not a duckling at all.  He’s not inferior to them but superior.  He shouldn’t feel bad about himself, but good.   Most of us have had experiences like this.

If you’re writing mainly to entertain, it’s a good idea to think of the end first.   You can then plot how to put the reader on the wrong track.   You may remember The Girl I Left Behind Me, where in the end we discover that the narrator is in fact dead and is a ghost.   But that is only revealed in the last line of the story.   But suddenly it ‘explains’ why people are ‘looking through her’ and so on.

If you’re writing to find out about yourself,   or someone else, then it’s better to write the story or situation down as it is (fact or fiction), and think at the end what ‘comes out of it’, perhaps what you’ve learnt.   As I write about my boarding school experience I find, just through describing it, that thoughts ‘come out’ at me, such as maybe my mother didn’t really love me,  or couldn’t really love, and how reluctant I am to think that.


A number of you have pieces that you’ve read in class, but which as yet don’t have an end, or a satisfactory end.  For next week try to work on an end.   It needn’t be the end of your whole autobiography or novel.  It could just be the end of a chapter or section.   If you wish you can re-read something you’ve already done so that we can focus our discussion on how it ends.   Or you could simply write down for us (and for me to keep) how the novel or autobiography as a whole is going to end, and how the end acts as some kind of surprise, some kind of insight. or if your book is a collections of poems or stories or memories, which one will come last and why.

This term we are focusing on starting to write a book or pamphlet.   Would you, for next time,  give me an update on how this is going for you.  This could be a brief summary of what happens, what you deal with.   It doesn’t matter if this is just one story or just a few poems.   The main thing is to think in terms of completing something.   Then after that we can think about editing.   Editing and rewriting, as I’ve mentioned, is the main ‘stuff’ of writing.  That’s what writers do most of the time.  Inspiration is the falling in love bit.  Editing is the marriage. Remember Keats:  10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration.  

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