On how to write stories

by look i have opinions

“Any specific, actionable insights I gain about how to write stories are woefully unstable. And disposable. A kind of single-use set of ideas that, in the end, might apply to a specific story I’m working on, but no more. In the end it’s hugely humbling to complete a short story thinking that I’ve figured something out, only to find that those ways of working and thinking are useless for a new story. You have to solve for x again, every single time.”

—Ben Marcus (x)

He goes on to say something even better:

“But I believe I do fumble along with a story looking to rouse myself somehow—you know, tying off the arm and squeezing the liquid in, seeing if there’s some part of the brain or heart I haven’t scraped before. I guess I’m stirring sentences together and sampling them, seeing how they make me feel. I am trying to notice if I can lock, or unlock, a certain kind of gravity, or levity, in the language—whatever feels right. All of this sadly presumes that what strikes or moves me, what makes me laugh or feel horrified, will do something similar to others—and this cannot be counted on. This is always a terrible realization to have, the sheer indulgence of the whole enterprise, the way it necessitates a reckless assertion of deeply subjective stuff, along with the hope that others might be wired as I am. I do know that attempting to entertain other people based on some guess of what they will like—when they are ultimately unknowable—has always backfired. So the whole thing amounts to a performance I put on for myself, while also heckling and grumbling from the audience, calling out fraudulence, demanding revisions.”

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