How to Write a Story: John Dufresne (Full Transcript)

Alice is not coming home. Grady went there to bring her back and drove her further away. But he can’t stop, oh, we have no story. Struggle implies protracted effort and impassioned conflict.

Your next scene. Alice agrees to go to lunch with Grady. They’re both back to work. He’s an admired high school guidance counselor. He works with troubled kids. And he’s always secretly believed that parents have allowed addiction to happen to their children. And now you know the source of his guilt and a sense of failure.

At the restaurant, Alice says she’s gotten an apartment. She’s moving out of his place and into hers. Grady is incredulous. Why did he know anything about this?

Later when she comes by his house to get her clothing and some pieces of furniture, Grady is helpful and understanding, because he wants to persuade her to stay. But she comes with a friend Austin from the radio station where she works and the move is over in 20 minutes.

Grady never guessed to wrangle alone with Alice.

Now the only obstacle so far has been Alice and you’re wondering if there might be some other impediments. And so one day Grady sits at the kitchen table, pouring over the photographs and the family album. You and he are trying to discern just when it was that his beautiful daughter decided enough with ballet and tennis. I’m going to be a ballet.

Grady’s heart is broken and his resolve is wearing thin. And there you have it. Will he give in, or to struggle against his own despair? He won’t give in and he calls Alice and he leaves a message on her voicemail asking her to come to marriage counseling. And now you know the next scene you’ll have to write.

As he leaves the message and keep message, he wonders if she’s listening. You think she is? He wonders if she’s alone. You think she’s not.

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The plot thickens. At counseling, Grady says he wants to save the marriage. But with Dr. Stroud, ask Alice what she wants. She says a divorce, a new life. She tells Grady she loves him, but can no longer live with him.

The ongoing conflict has to be resolved. Grady can lose Austin losing with Alice. Make a note to get to know Austin better. He’s an important character.

Or Grady can win; Alice comes home. After 23 years of marriage, she knows him that much at least, and you’ll end your story with a scene.

Here’s one possibility. Alice is on the sofa, reading a book by lamplight, but she’s been on the same page for an hour. When Grady looks at her, he sees a halo around her head, his glaucoma, remember. He thinks Saint Alice. But he notices the book, the photo is gone from the coffee table. And he realizes she’s holding it behind the book punishing herself with the image of her loss.

And in that moment, Grady understands the time will heal some wounds and he will eventually get over the loss of Alice. But in one case, time will make no difference, and he will never recover from a shattering loss of his daughter.

Bringing Alice home has shown Grady the futility of their decision to live together.

Your draft is rough. But you’ll smooth it out in revision, because the truth is stories aren’t written. They’re rewritten. You have to have something to rewrite at this first draft. We’ve been talking about to expect more from a first draft just to misunderstand the writing process. If at first you succeed, try try again.

The plot led, you followed and now you have your causal sequence of events. And you have your essential beginning, middle and end.

And now you can go back and add the connective tissue of summary, flesh out the scenes you’ve already written. Write the scenes that you discovered along the way, like the afternoon outside the church in Chimayo, the evening that Grady discovered the brook, the necklace that he’d given his daughter on her 16th birthday.

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And you probably should do something with that marvelous tattoo of Alice’s, but what?

Well, you’ll figure it out as you write, because your ass is still in the chair and you’ve just created a brave new world and made up these people who never existed before and you’re so excited. You can’t get up.

Thank you.

 

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