When the Pattern Breaks

Stories are about the dropped stitch. About what happens when the pattern breaks. Though there is a certain poetry in the rhythm of the everyday, it is most often a shift, a moment of not-always-so, that ends up being the story. Why is this moment different? What has changed? And why now? We would do well to ask ourselves these questions when we’re at work. This shift can be a massive one (here I am thinking of the dystopian novel in which the very rhythms of the universe are called into question: the sun no longer predictably rises in the east or sets in the west; a meteor is hurling toward earth; the oceans are rising), or it can be as subtle and internal as the Steven Millhauser story, “Getting Closer,” in which a nine-year-old boy on vacation with his family feels, for the first time, a searing, wordless awareness of time’s passage.

Why are we writing about this moment, and no other? And what can we do — stylistically, structurally, linguistically — to get inside it? How can we reveal the innards, the pulsing truth of this character who is — let’s face it — at some sort of juncture, because if he isn’t, why would the story be worth telling?

— Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, p. 136-137

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