Extruding What Is Incipient

Gordon Lish talks about “consecution,” about pulling the language and subject matter out of the previous sentence. Each sentence, even down to its syllabic and acoustical shape, embryonically contains the next. I don’t do it at that microscopic level, but I like to work incrementally with plot, extruding what is, I believe, incipient. Just accruing one small detail after another. The big stuff takes care of itself. What seems like audacious structural or narratorial swerves often aren’t, at the time of construction—they’re just the next step you need to take.

—Colin Barrett, "The Right Kind of Damage" (Interview), The Paris Review

"In character and beyond character"

I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies. This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both the world and eternity.

— Flannery O’Connor (thanks to Matt Bell)

"What I have written must tell me what to write next."

I am not constructing a story, but exfoliating an idea that’s usually caught in a metaphor. I listen for its squeak. What I have written must tell me what to write next. If it does not, it must be rewritten until it does. That way I rewrite my beginning until the book is done.

— William H. Gass