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James Purdy’s “Cutting Edge” and Hemingway’s iceberg (tip 74) Reply

D.D. Johnston discusses James Purdy’s short story “Cutting Edge” as an example of how a seemingly insignificant conflict can make for high drama when it stands for something bigger. In “Cutting Edge” the question of a young man’s beard becomes the symbolic terrain on which an inter-generational battle is fought. The story is about moral values and the future of America, but all of this is left unsaid, lurking below the water – after all, when people argue they rarely refer explicitly to what they’re really arguing about. In this sense, Purdy’s short story can be said to demonstrate Ernest Hemingway’s “Iceberg principle.” You can read the full story here.

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Fundamental human journeys (tip 73) Reply

Michael Scott has written novels, films, and plays in a variety of genres for adults and children and teens. He’s learned that it doesn’t much matter what sort of story you’re writing, or for whom your writing it: “A good story is always a journey. It is about the people the hero meets along the way and how they change him or her.” Now that we’re thinking about the themes of stories, it becomes apparent that a character’s journey is inextricably bound with a story’s theme. And since the theme has to be something general and powerful, something universal and impactful, it’s not surprising that there aren’t that many journeys that really matter.

Have a look at this list of fundamental human journeys, and let me know in the comments whether there are any that I’ve missed:

Fundamental human journeys


(simple transitions based on external changes – these are more likely to work in, say, a young adult genre novel than in a literary short story, but often in genre fiction a material transition will be made possible by a psychological transition)

Peril <-> Safety

Single <-> Married

Powerless <-> Powerful

Poor <-> Rich

Obscure <-> Famous

Picked on <-> Popular


Not seizing the day <->  Seizing the day

Isolation <-> Human connection

Love <-> Loss

Despair <-> Hope

Obliviousness <-> Awareness of mortality

Innocence <-> Loss of innocence

Inhibition <-> Boldness

Desire <-> Contentment

Self-doubt <-> Self-acceptance

No sense of sublime <-> Sense of the sublime

Search for meaning <-> Accepting meaninglessness

Fear <-> Acceptance of death

Faith <-> Lack of faith

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Theme: why your story matters (tip 70) 2

Why should anyone care about your story? After all, they’ve never met the people you’re writing about. In this introduction to the importance of a story’s theme, I’ll make reference to David Foster Wallace’s short story “Forever Overhead.” You can read this story online here.

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