Eudora Welty on Plot

Eudora Welty
Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

“When plot, whatever it does or however it goes, becomes the outward manifestation of the very germ of the story, then it is purest – then the narrative thread is least objectionable, then it is not in the way.” – Eudora Welty from “The Plot of the Short Story” (1949)

I’ve been working on a screenplay a long time, rewriting, rewriting and rewriting some more for months. Submitting to contests, bringing it to group for critique. Reading aloud with my sister. I’ve also been working on some memoir stories and short stories. Even these shorter stories were taking a long time. I’ve put in tons of hours with not much in the way of finished work to show for it. I decided I needed to write a story in one day just to feel better.

How do you go about writing a story in one day? I knew immediately I’d make it easy and write a one-page story (it’s actually four pages long, but trying for one page was a great way to start). How do you get an idea for a one page story? You watch the first image that goes across your mind. I won’t say here what it was, because it’s the end of my story, “Stigmata,” and I want you to read it. I took that image and realized it was about a character mentioned in one of the other stories I was working on. He was the father of the ex-girlfriend of the main character of my story called “Heat Wave.” Okay. I accepted that. Furthermore it was an image of this character as a child. Hmmm. This interested me. I went with it.

My image was the ending, so I began to wonder what would happen to this character for this ending to occur. And that is when I experienced the Eudora Welty quote above. I saw more images in my mind’s eye of the outworking of events that would lead to the ending I first envisioned. The image was the germ, the events leading to it, the plot.

I discovered the story contains elements of many things I care for deeply about relationships, culture, society, and the individual. I didn’t try to write about those things; I followed an impulse. It was satisfying and joyful. I’m going to work this way with the rest of the stories in my collection whenever I can. This method shows me through experience the meaning of another quote by Welty in the same piece:

“…form is connected with recognition; it is what makes us know, in a story, what we are looking at, what unique thing we are for a length of time intensely contemplating.”

What are you intensely contemplating? How do you get your ideas? What are you writing?