Writing Lessons

Every Story is Two Stories

By Ann Hood | January 12, 2015


In July 1987, I was invited to give a reading at the Bennington Writers’ Workshop. My first novel had just come out, and in one short month, I had moved from the world of being an international flight attendant for TWA to the literary world—a place I had dreamed of since I read Little Women and vowed to follow in Jo March’s footsteps. A novice here, I was unsure of the etiquette of writers’ conferences and book parties. When an intern picked me up at the airport, it quickly became clear that I was more nervous than he was. Happy to leave me at my dorm room, he hastily told me I would read at 4 P.M., followed by a cocktail party, and oh, if I was interested, Grace Paley was giving a lecture at 2 P.M. Grace Paley was—and remains—one of my heroes. I went straight to the auditorium and claimed a front row seat. For the next hour, Paley talked in her no-nonsense, Brooklyn-accented way about writing. “Every story is two stories,” she said. “The one on the surface and the one bubbling beneath. The climax is when they collide.” I wrote it down. I whispered it to myself as I walked back to my dorm room. Every story is two stories. I thought of every story I loved, from The Great Gatsby to “The Lady With the Pet Dog.” Every one of them, I realized thanks to Paley’s advice, two stories.

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