The Mark Blog

Beginnings and Endings

Today’s the day: the day the Mayans predicted would be the end of the world. Today is also the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Our earth is in transition. Life is in transition as we gear up for a new year, which gets me thinking about beginnings and endings.

This week we received a list of directives from Antoine, our instructor, and Rob, our advisor. The directives will guide us through the first half of The Mark program as we rewrite our manuscripts. The goal is to complete the directives by the Mid-Project Review. This week I have been focused on two of these: complete the two missing stories and directive #4.

Beginnings and endings play a big role in the formation of a short story. At times I have issues setting up a story. Finishing—and knowing when the tale is finished—can prove just as much of a challenge. Thus, when I read directive #4 it rang true: “Several of the pieces could use trimming at their beginnings and their endings…”

One of the books Antoine assigned to us is Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. I can see why Antoine called it an “MFA in a box.” It’s a great resource. Stern offers two concise but helpful chapters for starting short stories. In “Last Lap” he suggests beginning close to the climax, and in “Trauma” the tip is to commence, as the chapter title suggests, with a traumatic event. In other words, get the show on the road, let the action happen and engage the reader. All of this reading is giving me plenty of ideas for rewrites.

As part of directive #4, it was advised that I closely read at least ten of my favorite stories, “analyzing exactly how the writer gets the reader INTO the world, and how s/he EXITS the world.” This gives me a fabulous reason to reread some of my favorite stories, kind of like reconnecting with old friends. I’ve been compiling a list that includes "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver, Hemingway’s "Hills Like White Elephants," "Marry the One Who Gets There First" by Heidi Julavits, Chekhov’s "The Lady with the Pet Dog", "Terrific Mother" by Lorrie Moore, "Sonny’s Blues" by James Baldwin, "Kat" by Margret Atwood, "Deep-Holes" by Alice Munro, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O’Brien, "Spleen" by Josip Novakovich, and Garcia Marquez’s "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."

So many stories, so little time. What are some of your all-time favorite short stories? Seriously. I would love to hear.