In “How to Become a Writer,” by Lorrie Moore, the main character is a girl (I googled it just to be sure) named Francie that she wants to be a writer and gradually learns how to become one. The story follows her misadventures through the world of writing using vignettes, from showing her mom a haiku when she is 15 to quitting college to write fulltime, and everything in between, such as when she wrote a short story in high school in English class about a couple that kills each other with one shotgun that is rejected by her teacher.
The acute tension is that she is trying to become a writer
The chronic tension is deciding what to do with her life, as seen when she says “First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/ missionary…Fail miserably”
The piece is very compelling, obviously because of the title, and the story does deliver on the promise of helping one to understand the writing world, or at least, give the audience a peek. What I simply love about it is the splendid accuracy, for example, referring to bad experiences that can fuel writing as “required pain and suffering,” and calling comedic writing “self-contempt giving rise to comic form”. Both, frankly, describe every piece of my writing. Also, the line “she has also brought the ‘Names for Babies’ encyclopedia you asked for; one of your characters…needs a new name”. This was probably the most relatable line I have ever read, other than calling humorous writing a channel for self-hatred, which felt almost as if I wrote it. I also loved the form. The series of vignettes fit perfectly with the pace. The amount of character development was well-matched vis-à-vis the snippets of “time frames.”
I found the settings and the characters really interesting. The settings were progressively more mature throughout the piece, following Francie from her youth to adulthood, and this clearly showed through the situations she was thrown in, for example, as a child, she would be in the kitchen, showing her mom a haiku, but the story grew to her college schedule putting her in a creative writing class, and then her majoring in it, etc. I liked how her age was well-corresponded with the settings she was in. I feel that the characters had the same impact. The first person a child is introduced to in the world is their mom, and parents care for their children, so it makes sense for the first outside character for us to be introduced to in this coming-of-age story is the mother. This changes, though, with her age. As she becomes her own person, she meets new people and becomes more involved with the world, resulting in the story bringing in high school teachers, and professors, and peers, etc.
The story is intriguing and is for these reasons, and also the fact that it was all in 2nd person, and didn’t eventually become boring, which was what I would’ve expected from a piece that constantly refers to the reader as the main character. I’d like to imitate this in my own writing. Not specifically using 2nd person, but using a technique that would seemingly grow dull as it dragged on, but somehow sustaining the reader’s interest throughout. One way I believe the author maintained interest is through pacing. The time elapsed with each stanza break was relatively long, some being a couple weeks and others being around a year or so, however, it was always clear how far ahead the jump was, keeping a fast pace without confusing anyone. This is what I’d like to see reflected in my writing.