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Grace Paley on Plot

February 1, 2012


In “A Conversation with My Father” [a short story]* you make a lot of disparaging remarks about plot.


Ever since then, everybody says I have no plot, which gets me really mad. Plot is nothing; plot is simply time, a timeline. All our stories have timelines. One thing happens, then another thing happens. What I was really talking about in that story was having a plot settled in your mind: this is the way the story’s going to go. In the next thirty pages or so, this will happen, this will happen, this will happen. That’s what I meant.


So you would never start a story with the ending in mind?


No. When the ending comes to me, that’s when I know I’m going to finish the story. Usually it’s around the middle. And then I write the end. And then I change it.

*Grace Paley. “A Conversation with my Father”, Collected Stories. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1994

Interview excerpted from  Grace Paley, The Art of Fiction No. 131,  Interviewed by Jonathan Dee, Barbara Jones, Larissa MacFarquhar, Available on the Paris Review website


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