Thursday, November 02, 2006

Quality vs. Quantity


Literally just finished your article in the Nov/Dec Poets&Writers (really helped with the MFA application anxiety, btw) and I ended up going to their site to read additional MFA “stuff.” I found another article there by Steve Almond in the “MFA Toolkit” called “Confessions of an MFA Application Reader.” In it, Almond suggests that if your portfolio consists of 30 pages made up of one strong story and one weak story, you should submit less than 30 pages even though that is what the application calls for because “quality trumps quantity, every time.” I’m curious about your thoughts on this as well as other comments.

Wanna-be Novelist in North Carolina

It’s all relative. If your one great story is eight pages, then no way. If it’s twenty-two pages, then that advice makes sense. That’s a great article by Steve Almond, by the way. Other readers should check it out.

Back to the question, if a writer truly feels like he/she has only one good story, then either 1. Get writing on a new one, or editing an old one, or 2. It might be wise to wait a year before applying. Of course, I’d nudge people towards #1. Rock on.


Qfwfq said...

That is a good essay by Almond, however this struck me as odd:

"Most people who apply can write well," FIU's Dufresne observes. "But they can't tell a story, don't seem to know what a story is. So, fiction writers, tell a story! Make me care about what happens to your characters. I don't want to be distracted by your ‘style.'"

To begin with, I'd say the opposite is true. Good "stories" are a dime a dozen. Coming up with an interesting plot is as simple as skimming some police reports or listening to friends talk about their craziest experiences. In my experience most people know how to think up a story, they just dont' know how to TELL it. ie they have no style.

I'd much rather read Nabokov going on a 10 page meditation about a screwdriver than a read a really badly written story about a crazy jewlery heist.

But more to the point, I would have assumed MFA people would be much more concerned with style over "telling a story" in their applications. Structure, narrative arc, tricks like ephiphanies and all that kind of stuff is a lot easier to teach than organic rhtymn, interesting metaphors, exciting language and anything else that is "style."

Don't you think?

Tapeworm said...

I think what's being stated is for a writer to use their style to tell a great story. Okay, someone is a great writer; they really know how to fling out a metaphor and have their language drip from the they just need to take those skills and tell a great story with them. Don't tell a detailed account of a walk down the street or a birthday party. Can't we, as readers, go out and experience those things first hand? I don't know. I think it just comes down to a killer combination of the two.

chris said...

I agree with both Tom and Steve, quality vs. quantity. However, in interviews in Identity Theory and 3 A.M. Mr Almond admits to having a short attention span. I thought he also mentioned that books shouldn't be over 500 pages and that Augie March was too long at certain parts. So maybe these are just his personal preferences ... but what's it matter? Send your best stuff.