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Exploring the art of prose

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Tag: Narrative Structure


Author’s Note

In the opening paragraph of A. Igoni Barrett’s story, “To Fall Twice for the Same Trick (or Déjà Vu),” the narrator falls and hits his head against a desk. The incident recurs in the closing, but one instance is illusory. I return to this story often, with the aim of sifting these events. So far, I have failed. Instead of coming to a better understanding of the plot, I move out towards a philosophical contemplation of the indistinguishability of the real and the imagined. It is this aspect of the story, its inscrutability, the persistent feeling that it cannot be not fully known, the promise of yet more to be discovered, that has kept me tethered to it, and inspired my style in “Riverine.”

Stories, generally, are difficult to convey from the mind onto the page, perhaps more so if the concept is about memory, as in “Riverine,” with its formless, infinite, and tumbling nature. With this story I wanted to create a prose style that was unwieldy enough to match my material. This stylistic decision, the narrative loop and winding sentences, made sense in my mind, but knowing how difficult it is to translate story ideas into text, I feared the project was certain to fail. The task was to rescue it from such fate. Predictably, the first draft was a mess. Each subsequent draft, then, was an attempt to revise towards clarity while, hopefully, retaining that puzzling element of Barrett’s story that prompts the reader to return to it often. Constructing the sentences was a thrill, but the several attempts at taming the language were tortuous.

After I had failed to rescue myself from the maze of my own fabrication, I knew it was time to let the story go to workshop. Thankfully, I am in a program that makes provision for that. Creative writing workshops have a dubious reputation, but it is an arrangement that I am grateful for. Workshop, in its traditional, blunt format, has worked for me. It always pulls me through a jam and refocuses my vision so I can see better where I am going with a story, what I need to add or drop. So, I may have conceived and written the story, but the result published here is collaborative. This statement similarly calls for the acknowledgment of the input of the editors of this magazine, who went beyond the now-customary grammatical corrections. My hypothesis on the decline of developmental editing is a topic for another essay. In the meantime, let me know if you figure out what is happening in Barrett’s story.

 


LADI OPALUWA is a Nigerian writer based in the United States where she is completing her PhD in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her stories have been published in Electric LiteratureLitro Magazine, and Overland Journal. She was shortlisted for the Morland Writing Scholarship in 2015 and was awarded a MacDowell Fellowship in 2017. Her Twitter handle is @ladiopaluwa.