The Situation and the Story

The Situation and the Story

The Art of Personal Narrative

Book - 2001
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A guide to the art of personal writing, by the author ofFierce AttachmentsandThe End of the Novel of Love All narrative writing must pull from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver a bit of wisdom. In a story or a novel the "I" who tells this tale can be, and often is, an unreliable narrator but in nonfiction the reader must always be persuaded that the narrator is speaking truth. How does one pull from one's own boring, agitated self the truth-speaker who will tell the story a personal narrative needs to tell? That is the questionThe Situation and the Storyasks--and answers. Taking us on a reading tour of some of the best memoirs and essays of the past hundred years, Gornick traces the changing idea of self that has dominated the century, and demonstrates the enduring truth-speaker to be found in the work of writers as diverse as Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, or Marguerite Duras. This book, which grew out of fifteen years teaching in MFA programs, is itself a model of the lucid inteligence that has made Gornick one of our most admired writers of ninfiction. In it, she teaches us to write by teaching us how to read: how to recognize truth when we hear it in the writing of others and in our own.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374167332
Characteristics: 165 p. ; 20 cm


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Aug 05, 2018

Probably the best book on how to write and how to read narrative non-fiction. It's better than any class, deeper and more illustrative than other books on the subject, and clear, interesting, and you can't help but find yourself quoting from it in random conversations.

The situation isn't the story - this is the first big insight. There's who is speaking and what is being said, and the relation between the two. What is driving the writer? Not the situation. The story isn't that the writer found herself in some horrible marriage or disastrous situation. That's, again, the situation. What does the narrator do with this situation? Who is the narrator and why is she speaking? As V.S. Pritchett is quoted, "It's all in the art. You get no credit for living."

And this book is art, learning to understand and, if it is your motive, learning to do it well.


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