I haven’t a clue as to how my story will end. But that’s all right. When you set out on a journey and night covers the road, you don’t conclude that the road has vanished. And how else could we discover the stars?
This week I am reading Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek and other stories on the advice of my adviser. Published in 1991 many of these stories were first published in literary magazines including Americas Review, Story and Grand Street. What I’m enjoying about this collection is it is redefining what a story is to me. One example is the first piece in the collection, My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn. In this piece Cisneros writes a descriptive engaging short piece that defines friendship and sisterhood for a young Mexican-American girl. In three short pages I am immersed in the culture, voice and time the story was written in. After reading this collection I wonder how many of my short pieces that I had thought were unfinished deserve another look. How do you define story? In How Fiction Works Oakley Hall writes that “fiction lives on the specific, the particular. It dies on the abstract and the general, such as: “Local man appointed to post.” With Cisneros’ opening paragraph (one long sentence) in My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn, the reader is introduced to a very specific character there is only one Lucy Anguiano:
“Lucy Anguiano, Texas girl who smells like corn, like Frito Bandito chips, like tortillas, something like that warm smell of nixtamal or bread the way her head smells…”
Engaging dialogue and dialect reveals character. “Have you ever eated dog food? I have.” And descriptive sensory images put the reader immediately into the action and the characters in this south Texas border town. “Fat couch on the porch” “Screen door with no screen” “…pin the pink sock of the baby Amber Sue on top of Cheli’s flowered T-shirt…”
All of this in three short pages. Strong writing is story.
Today, look at short pieces that you have written. How can you add or take away from your paragraphs to make the writing “work.” Does your dialogue give information? Do you use powerful verbs? Are your characters unique and specific? Does your writing include sensory details? What would improve the piece? Is it part of a larger piece of work or can it stand on its own? Now get back to work!
The Writing Nag