Thursday, July 13, 2006

Flannery O’Connor on the Meaning of a Story

Flannery O’Connor on the meaning of a story:

When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully.

From Flannery O’Connor, “Writing Short Stories” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969). (Thanks to The Literate Kitten for recommending that I read this wonderful collection of essays!)

5 comments:

Mark said...

I love this quote. I still remember the first time I heard it from a professor (and wrongly attributed it to him at the time). If you could just say what the story was about, there'd be no reason to write it. It was one of the two or three big AHA! moments of my undergraduate workshop experience.

Dorothy W. said...

I love O'Connor's essays too -- glad you are enjoying them!

Stefanie said...

Wow, I'm going to have to find this book!

LK said...

Oh, I'm so glad you dipped into this book...one of the absolute masters of the short story. She is definitely an author whose entire collection should be read, cover to cover.

bloglily said...

Kate, Writing instructors often tell their students that they must be able to explain their novel (or story) in a few sentences, perhaps to help the writer achieve some clarity about what they're trying to accomplish. And I think there's something to that -- but what O'Connor seems to be saying is something quite different: the true "meaning" of a story is simply the experience of the story itself. That makes sense. Certainly, a storyteller's tools are everything BUT a summary of the story itself. I'd love to hear more about the rest of these essays. I haven't read O'Connor for a long time, and hope you have her on your list of short stories for your story a month group. Best, BL