Analyzing a Short Story: Ryan Harty (Part II)

My presentation last night went well, and it lead into a discussion on using the components of genre to one’s advantage when writing, particularly science fiction. This quickly evolved into a great, multi-faceted discussion sprawling into all sorts of speculative talk on writing, creativity, and entertainment.

Our instructor, Diana Joseph, tossed out the question of what today and tomorrow’s entertainment world is and what we feel is coming after post-modernism. The class latched onto the idea that turning life into a game show on “reality tv” where things seem real but are also staged is a new genre of storytelling the western world seems fascinated by. For my part, I believe this is true, and we’ve also moved past cynicism to an age of self-aware irony while at the same time a reinvention of reality. I think enough people understand the ridiculous manufactured moments on “reality tv” while being simultaneously fascinated by it.

I think this carries over to the emergence of magical realism making such a prominent mark in entertainment these days (think Pan’s Labyrinth, or Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper). At this point, my colleague (and great writer – somebody give this guy a teaching job! …I’ll take one, too…) Luke Rolfes interjected that in times of war, this sort of story becomes appealing as an escape. This lead our instructor Diana to speak of the cycles of art and how they’re directly tied into the national mood. Right now, with “reality tv” ruling the national consciousness, it’s no surprise memoir outsold fiction last year, and that trend is likely to continue.

We particularly examined the post-freedom movements of the 60s and post-Vietnam era of the 70s, and I had a moment recalling my film studies undergraduate days of looking at it from the western genre point of view: the feeling out of the genre in the early “pioneer” days (The Great Train Robbery, Stagecoach), the classic formula of the “golden” era (The Searchers, High Noon, Shane), a cynical “satire” of the genre (Blazing Saddles, Silverado, even the uber-violent The Wild Bunch), and finally “reinvention” (Unforgiven, Dances With Wolves, Tombstone, 3:10 to Yuma).

I could go on and on, but the main point is we had an excellent discussion last night and it all lead from the way Ryan Harty wrote a science fiction story – a genre often lacking in the respect it deserves – with character and emotion at its center. Harty used the genre to its greatest strengths, and we all felt it in class last night.

The state of art and life endlessly reflect each other. Harty’s story is a prime example of this. Wanna read it? It’s in the 2003 Best American Short Stories collection at for $1.99.


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