When Cause Doesn’t Follow Effect: How to Structure the Strange

When Cause Doesn’t Follow Effect: How to Structure the Strange

I gravitate toward that some might call strange. I like stories that are free from the logic that governs our reality. Who says time—in fiction—must move forward smoothy and in one direction? Who says effects must follow clear causes? I also love when writers innovate with structure, stretching what a storyteller can do with form. In 2015, as I worked to complete my MFA in fiction, I began an investigation. I wanted to better understand how these two elements—structure and the strange—can combine. How might the unreal overlap with, blur behind, or nest inside the real? And what can a writer achieve by structuring the strange in innovate and intentional ways? At some point while taking notes on the stories I read, I started sketching. I'm not a particularly visual person, but I felt like a simple illustration might help me better approach these questions. I began creating basic maps of how the stories were operating. These diagrams of the strange have been incredibly instructive in my process. They've showcased the diverse ways the real and the strange might collide in fiction and how those collisions can represent elements of our strange, real world. Below are three of my favorite strange stories and the insights I've gained by creating diagrams for each of them. * Structure #1: Carmen Maria Machado's “Inventory” In this , the strange is a blurred background that a reader needs to pay close attention to in order to see. The narrator of Carmen Maria Machado's “Inventory” creates a list of everyone she's ever been intimate with: “One girl,” she begins. “We lay down next to each other on the musty rug in her basement.” How might the unreal overlap with, blur behind, or nest inside the real? The physical details of each itemized encounter are rendered in sharp focus: “Round glasses, red hair;” “Six inches shorter than me;” “Blonde hair, brash voice;” “Slender, tall. So skinny I could see his pelvic bone.” A reader must turn their eye away from these bodies to see what else is happening. Where is the narrator in […]

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