Originally, I thought I was going to write a blog post about what it was like to read Jennifer Egan’s story Black Box on Twitter, but I actually found that my attention span made it impossible for me to read it that way. For me, the jury is out on Twitter as a delivery method for either poems or fiction.
However, after I finished the story Black Box the old-fashioned way in the actual The New Yorker magazine, it struck me that Egan’s story reminded me a form of poetry: instructions. There are many examples of different poems with “lessons” and poets giving instructions on how to sing, love, or even drown.
That got me to thinking about other similarities between poetic and short fiction forms. Jeffrey Levine, editor of Tupelo Press, once said in a workshop that all poems are really list poems. Some fiction writers have tapped into this reservoir of inspiration as well. One of my all-time favorite stories – The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – is nothing more than a list.
One thing that Egan and O’Brien both did in tapping into these forms was to keep a narrative arc moving, something that Sandra Cisneros also manages to do in her short story Eleven, which uses another staple of the poet, repetition, to help describe the frustration of her young narrator.
All of this has now got me wondering whether I can create a short story that’s a recipe, incantation or curse. There is value in looking for inspiration outside of your own form to help you think outside of the (black) box in your own writing.