Lessons focusing on fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and the intercepts between, to provide inspiration and/or distraction.
- The Thickness & The Threshold: A Lesson With Alina Stefanescu
- What Might Have Been: A Lesson With Steve Edwards
- What Echoes Will Always Come Back: A Lesson With Hillary Leftwich
- Creating Emotional Urgency Using Anaphora & Parallelism: A Lesson With Kathy Fish
- The House and You: Intimate Spaces, Objects and Memory: A Lesson With Hannah VanderHart
- Populating Fiction in the Age of Social Isolation: A Lesson with Aram Mrjoian
- All That Lingers: A Lesson with Satya Dash
- A Lesson with Kim Magowan
- Epistolary Writing: a Shortcut to Earnestness & a Step toward Experiment: A Lesson With Tyler Barton
- Diving Through to the Other Side: A Lesson With Meg Tuite
- Evoking Deep Feeling in Narrative: A Lesson With Jennifer Wortman
- What Stays on the Page: Using Photos as Inspiration: A Lesson With Madeline Anthes
- Freewriting With Sentence Starts: A Lesson With Francine Witte
- How Did We Get Here?: A Lesson With Joshua Jones
- Switching Up Your POV For Deeper Access: A Lesson With Melissa Ragsly
- The Sky is a Story: A Lesson With Robert James Russell
- Let’s Talk About How Stories Get Started: A Lesson With K.C. Mead-Brewer
- Hoarding and the Fear of Scarcity: A Lesson With Michelle Ross
- WYSIWYG (A Piece of Writing in Which What You See is What You Get): A Lesson With Kaj Tanaka
- A Lesson With Lauren Slaughter
- On Obsession and Time and Imperative: A Lesson With Sara Lippmann
- Our Bodies, Our Feelings, Our Paratext: A Lesson With Erik Fuhrer
- The A-ha Moments We Never Go A-ha To: A Lesson With Jennifer Fliss
How Did We Get Here?: A Lesson With Joshua Jones
Writing is a kind of time travel. The writer can leap through decades, centuries even, and then leap back again; can focus on a moment and suspend the reader in details preserved with crystalline clarity; can contract and expand at will, hit fast forward or reverse. The writer is the ultimate Time Lord. And yet, so many of our narratives proceed linearly, from inciting incident through rising action to the climax and denouement. Sure, there may be flashbacks along the way, but in the majority of narratives, time marches inexorably forward. Except, of course, when it doesn’t. Sometimes the point of a narrative is not What Happens Next but instead is How Did We Get Here?
A recent Twitter thread asked for narratives that moved backward in time. There were many excellent responses to that thread, some which flowed backward in time a sentence at a time, like Stephen Dixon’s “Wife in Reverse”; others that used reverse-ordered chapters, like Amber Sparks’ “Most of Them Would Follow Wandering Fires” and Cate Fricke’s “Good Creatures, Small Things.” In all cases, the stories start at the end. How many times have you heard writing advice to start as close to the end as possible? Here’s your chance to push that to the extreme.
Prompt: take an existing work-in-progress, ideally one that is rough and not quite working, and stand it on its head; start with the last sentence or the last scene and work your way backward. Perhaps reverse your sentences as they’re currently written and see how that changes the urgency of the piece and its rhythm. Alternately, begin a new story with this structure in mind and begin with the climactic moment and follow the thread backward to show how we got there. Even if you don’t stick with this structure, by playing with the flow of time, you’ll see your writing in an entirely different light.