A Thing Shaped Like Another Thing

I am an unabashed lover of formally innovative stories. If it’s a story structured in the shape of something else, I’ll follow it anywhere. Here are some favorites of mine:

  1. Jennifer Egan, “To Do.” (A to-do list.)
  2. C.C. Finlay, “Footnotes.” (Footnotes from an unseen paper.)
  3. Paul Violi, “Index.” (An index entry. I think this might technically be considered a poem, but it’s definitely a narrative one.)
  4. Harry Mathews, “Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double).” (A recipe.)
  5. *Kevin Brockmeier, “The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device.” (A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel.)

(*This story is not available online, but the link leads to a place where you can purchase the story in chapbook form, or you can find it in his collection The View from the Seventh Layer. Both are well worth your time and money. Kevin Brockmeier is one of the finest fabulist short-story writers working today.)

I enjoy sometimes adopting strange or unconventional structures – especially one that’s already established, like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story – because it can guide my brain along in a way that’s not expected. Often, this helps me to look at the character or situation or narrative in a way that I might otherwise have not seen. I imagine that poets who write sonnets or villanelles or other forms, instead of blank verse, experience similar pleasures.

*edit* C.C. Finlay has suggested some other good structure stories below. Check them out!

2 thoughts on “A Thing Shaped Like Another Thing

  1. Thanks for listing my story here. I’m also fascinated by stories that play with structure, and find spec fic ideally suited for it. I’ve been thinking for a long time that it would be fun to edit an anthology of them.

    Have you read?

    J.G. Ballard, “The Index” — http://johntranter.com/00/index-the-ballard.shtml

    Greg van Eekhout, “Will You Be An Astronaut?” (alt hist as children’s book) — http://escapepod.org/2009/06/05/episode-202-will-you-be-an-astronaut/

    Ruth Nestvold, “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” (an automated help system talking to an eco-tourist crashed on Mars) – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/45103

    Bruce Sterling, “Our Neural Chernobyl” – http://docs6.chomikuj.pl/360752283,0,1,Sterling-Bruce—Our-Neural-Chernobyl.pdf (this was one of my direct inspirations for “Footnotes”

    Those are just some favorites off the top of my head. I have a list of about a dozen other stories like this someplace..

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