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Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do? : Conversation question • Page 2 • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby pls » Wed Dec 17, 2014 5:12 pm

Yeh, okay, I'll defer to James, also. My simplistic explanation just didn't cut it this time.
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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby DrG2 » Wed Dec 17, 2014 9:30 pm

I don't have anything useful to contribute to the existing discussion on narrative vs. exposition at the moment, but I did want to mention another thing she has done in a story I just read which I would get torn up for if I posted something similar:

In a long story, which had all been told in first person, past tense, she finished with a page in first person, present tense. It wasn't like there was a long break in time before that present tense scene, either.

I'd also like to contrast her with Elmore Leonard who writes dialogue-dominated stories and who famously has suggested that writers skip the parts that the readers would skip (or that would bore the reader). Munro, as I said, uses very short interludes of dialogue and writes brief summaries of (sometimes) long periods of time where nothing much happens.

Also, I haven't read any Welty, but Munro's stories remind me very much of Flannery O'Connor, moved 1,000+ miles north and perhaps 1-5 decades later.

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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby Mazy » Wed Dec 17, 2014 9:48 pm

[quote="DrG2"] I'd also like to contrast her with Elmore Leonard who writes dialogue-dominated stories and who famously has suggested that writers skip the parts that the readers would skip (or that would bore the reader). Munro, as I said, uses very short interludes of dialogue and writes brief summaries of (sometimes) long periods of time where nothing much happens.[/quote]

This suggestion by Elmore Leonard is confusing at best, and laughable, to me. Can someone explain how a writer would know which parts a perspective reader/s would skip? I am a word for word reader. I will skip too much repetition and purple prose, and avoid this in my writing. Is this what is meant? I mean, most writers write within their preferred reading comfort zone.
Did I confuse this further?
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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby DrG2 » Wed Dec 17, 2014 10:55 pm


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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby updog » Wed Dec 17, 2014 11:42 pm

Yeah, the problem with that link is I can find ten others that claim to know the difference, too, and none of them say the same thing. I know because I did my own search earlier today. ;)

I haven't read the Munro story you're referring to in that other post, but I can think of situations where changing the tense could work.

Elmore Leonard was a really good writer, but that doesn't mean everyone should write exactly the way he did. It's not even possible for *every* story to have lots of dialogue. Some of my favorite novels hardly have any. I don't know if you've read Life of Pi, but the character in that one is adrift in the middle of an ocean for much of the novel. Just him and a tiger in a little boat. There are pages and pages where nobody talks, and it's a fantastic story. A story about the power of story! I loved it. :mrgreen:

I'm pretty sure when Leonard said "leave out the boring parts", he just meant we should leave out the things that don't matter to the story. You don't have to show your character driving to the store to pick up milk and toilet paper if that's ALL he is doing during that time. You can skip that part. It's not important. It's boring because it has nothing to do with anything.

Nothing much happens for long stretches of Munro's stories? I wonder if this is just a matter of taste. Like James said, a literary story might have very few action scenes, but imho, that doesn't necessarily mean nothing happens. Some stories (usually the ones I usually like the most) are about the things going on *inside* a person. I can see why you might find that boring, but I love it.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that even if Munro isn't the greatest writer in the world, she has found her audience. Whatever she's doing is working. :)
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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby LRosa » Thu Dec 18, 2014 11:33 am

Thanks for the exposition vs. narrative explanations. You all said it way better than Wikipedia.
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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Fri Dec 19, 2014 1:24 pm


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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby DrG2 » Fri Dec 19, 2014 9:32 pm

just for clarity, that quote was not written by me. It's from that website. The author defined the difference between exposition and narrative, then made the value judgement that the distinction was splitting hairs.

imo,
there is a big difference between the narrator summarizing the action (of perhaps very long stretches of time) and the narrator describing the action, or "dramatizing" it. The first is inherently "telling". Not that there aren't times where telling is the best way to go, but to equate them (simply because they are both narration) makes no sense to me.

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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby CallMeJake » Mon Jan 12, 2015 12:10 pm

I read this topic and it made me feel somewhat better, because the writing style under discussion is the writing style that comes naturally to me. Sometimes I have many pages of storyline with no dialogue. I've tried to go back and insert dialogue (because it's expected?) and it just interrupts the flow of the story, so I've taken it back out.
I am going to try and paste a few paragraphs here. Would you describe my writing as narrative? Does the storyline flow without dialogue? The setup here is that a Police Detective has received a call about a shooting, and is on his way to the scene. I'm posting in this section because I feel it's relevant to the topic...

The road that carried residents and visitors up to the lake was not far ahead, and ordinarily at this time of night, Jake would be taking the next left to carry him up to his cabin on the water. But tonight duty called. Past the pawn shop with a set of used tires in the window, then past the hardware store where a worn-out security cable wound through a mass of wheelbarrows and lawnmowers parked out front, Jake drove swiftly, dodging Gil, the town drunk, who was teetering at the edge of the road in his faded overalls, then veering right and merging onto the highway. Jake pushed hard on the gas pedal and sailed through the outskirts of Gray City, then headed through the darkness in overdrive towards I-75 and the Homefront Motel, where a guest had reported hearing gunshots coming from a room on the second floor.
Blue lights now in his rear view, Jake inched over toward the shoulder to allow the black-and-white a free pass on his left, and as it whizzed by, Jake recognized Lieutenant Dan Mangrum behind the wheel. Dan was a good cop to work with and he would probably be of immense help in figuring out what had happened. Both would find out soon enough, for the mercury vapor halos of the I-75 interchange were just ahead.
Dan’s black-and-white slid into the motel parking lot, with Jake’s Caddy right behind. The doors of both cars opened and closed simultaneously, and Dan hit the steps to the second floor with Jake a split second behind him. The uniformed cop with the ashen face standing in front of room 206 motioned hurriedly for both of them to come ahead, to step inside and see what he had already seen. It wasn’t pretty.

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Re: Is Alice Munro an example of what NOT to do?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Mon Jan 12, 2015 1:26 pm


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