When I used to write stories, I thought up elaborate concepts in an attempt to be literary. I’ll create something at once humorous that also comments on the act of humor and why it is notoriously unfunny to examine, I would think. Or, I’ll write in the vein of Borges or Carver or Beckett or Vonnegut. Yes, that’s the ticket.
The results were frustratingly terrible.
While I could go to great lengths to describe the need for such exercises (in the end, that’s all they really were), and I certainly advocate killing yr idols off completely after absorbing their words and ideas into your soul or quintessence or whatever it is you like to call it, the best and most elegant solution is the single image.
An image or a feeling allows a writer to spin a story. When this little doozy came to me–a woman slitting her huband’s throat–I needed to understand what had happened. Who was she? What led her to do this? Where did this take place? The writing took care of the rest, and everything fell into place: I incorporated elements from things I’d heard and read, but they were all in service of this story that I was discovering through the act of writing. Nothing beats it.
From “Thicker Than Water”:
The sharp blade makes an effortless cut, and the only thing I think is this: “Like butter.” It’s a stupid, stupid thought and I don’t even know where I heard it. But then I wonder why I’m worrying about it at all while the knife I’m holding scrapes the bone inside my husband’s neck. If I pressed a little harder I know it would cut right through, and his head would come clean-off.