Focusing the class on the “formal properties” of a story, Baxter asks students to describe its world: “What techniques have been employed to shape this particular story? I talk about request moments, one-way gates, acute vs. chronic tension, inventories and undoings, dramatic imagery, selective listening in dialogue, sparkplug characters, plot reversals—the whole bag of tools and tricks,” says Baxter. “And then: are these techniques working well, or at cross-purposes, to dramatize the story’s narrative?”

If a writer is having a problem with a story, there is that classic Baxter response: Make it a problem in the story. If a character is talkative and boring, have other characters notice their tediousness. Listen to the problem—it has a message for you.

Feast of Love for Charles Baxter | English | College of Liberal Arts

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