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Segue 9: Fall 2010  ||  Valerie Vogrin


about the author


Valerie Vogrin is the author of the novel Shebang (University Press of Mississippi, 2004). Her short stories have appeared in Ploughshares, AGNI, Zone 3, The Florida Review, Natural Bridge, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She was recently awarded a Pushcart Prize, and the winning story will appear in Pushcart Prize XXXIV: Best of the Small Presses. She is an associate professor of English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she also serves as prose editor of Sou’wester.


about the work


This story was the result of an assignment in my Spring 2009 graduate workshop. The challenge I gave them was: “O inventor of fictions, now is the time for you to invent a fictional form, the short story equivalent of the sestina, the tango, the triple lutz, the still life with trout.”

Throughout the semester we examined the question of why dancers, figure skaters, visual artists, and, of course, poets, commonly work in forms (and continue to create new ones), questions of form for fiction writers boil down to questions of length—the difference between micro-fictions and flash fictions, etc.

I hoped that my students would come up with something that was more than an exercise—forms that would stand up to repetition, if not be revered in perpetuity. “Your goal,” I wrote, “is to invent a reproducible form that will nevertheless result in unique works of fiction. That is, if different writers undertake your form, the underpinnings of the form should be evident in each resulting story, but the stories should also be various.”

Once the students had completed their inventions, we exchanged forms. I followed the guidelines for one of my student’s forms, “Belazza e afflizione”—that is, beauty and affliction. She instructed that “unlike the classic story structure, the story will open at the point of climax and then descend into a darker downward spiral, at which point a moment of epiphany will occur. Then the rising action will take place, which will be the moment of transcendence.” It sounded to me like what she was asking me to do – and which I surely would be unable to do—was write The English Patient in 1,000 words.

I’m not actually sure I even did a very good job of following the instructions, but I was glad to have tried; this was a story I don’t think I would have otherwise written. I started with the worst thing I could think of and then had to figure out how to make this awful accident beautiful in any sense of the word—and in a way that wouldn’t diminish the awfulness. I worry that it’s a cruel story. But then, the world seems cruel in this way—the way it insists on forgiveness, on going on—with or without transcendence.

I must report that we didn’t really crack the case regarding form in fiction. At least a handful of the students’ inventions were worthy of further attention and served as valuable starting points, but as far as I can tell no one created the fictional equivalent of the sonnet.


Valerie Vogrin on the web









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