Matters of Life and Death, Part 4

Part 4 of Melanie Rae Thon’s exercises to turn life into fiction. These may seem lengthy, but the process is excellent, particularly as a cure for writer’s block. Parts 1 and 2 are good for those wishing to do some self-exploration through journaling, even if they do not plan on turning them into fiction.

Part 4: Putting It Together

This sequence of experiments is merely an outline, a great simplification of a very difficult, complicated, solitary, time-consuming process. I offer it as one example of how we may begin to structure coherent, fluid narratives from a series of explorations. This example would lead you toward a traditional structure, which is not the only way you might choose to render a story, a play, a poem, a fragment of memoir . . .


After completing Part 3, you should have a main character (the person you once were), a dramatic event, a swirl of images, and a list of things you wish you remembered but don’t. Use these explorations to begin telling the story of that event moment by moment. Keep asking yourself: What happened next, and what happened next? Feel free to add details. You may wish to altar or fuse characters, omit images that seem extraneous, or create tension by compressing the time frame of the story. It there’s something in the I don’t remember section you need to remember, you’ll have to imagine it fully, and render it as if you do remember. The “factual” truth doesn’t matter. Your challenge is to tell the story truth, to make that fictional world as believable as possible.

Try to do this draft quickly. Trust your intuition. If you get stuck, make a note to yourself about the details you need to explore.


Wait a day or two. Read your draft several times. Where does it seem strongest? Where is it vague or abstract? Can you see your people? (Have you described them physically?) Is the sequence of events clear?

Let someone else read it, and have that person tell you what s/he understands line by line. While it’s great to have someone say, “I really like this piece,” if the person doesn’t tell you what s/he understands, you don’t know how much of your story you’ve communicated. Are there gaps in the story, missing images or events? Have your reader ask you questions. Is there anything else s/he needs to know to make the story feel complete?

Have this person read the story aloud. Try to listen as if you are hearing this tale for the first time. Which parts are the most interesting? Can you enhance them? Are there places where the language seems cumbersome or muddled? It’s surprisingly helpful to hear our own words in someone else’s voice.

Has your intuition led you to the right tone, structure, narrative distance, language, point of view, or do you need to make adjustments?

Stay tuned for Part 5, the conclusion, of this exercise. I’ll also be posting some of my own experiences completing and teaching this exercise.

Categories: Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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