Writing the Truth We Seek by Gretchen Knox

Today’s post comes from The Quotable contributer, Gretchen Knox. Look for Gretchen’s short story, “Make it Right” in Issue 5, Place to be published in April.

With just 3,373 words Shirley Jackson wrote one of the best known stories of the twentieth century. I read The Lottery when I was twelve and still remember a thud of dread and ping of delight as I got to the last sentence, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed and then they were upon her.”

The dread was obvious. Ms. Jackson masterfully built her story. The Lottery seemed innocent. And the unsuspecting reader was led right down the path only to be horrified when the villagers turned on Tessie Hutchinson. Even her husband and children, with stones heavy in their pockets, were ready to kill her.
But I loved the story. It was compelling, shocking, visceral. I hated the outcome, but I couldn’t look away. I wondered how people could do that to each other. The story made me think.
But over time I forgot about The Lottery. Until I started writing fiction.
I had no plan – just the drive to put something down on paper, to tell a story. As I wrote, though, themes emerged. Events from my life screamed, wiggled and leapt on the page – growing up, making mistakes, forgiving. Through the drafting process, these personal experiences morphed into narratives. But as I wrote, I began to understand the pulse that beats within writers – the compulsion to tell a truth. A truth the reader can relate to and a truth the writer needs to make real through the act of creating it – whether anyone else reads it.   
Last July I first drafted a short story called Make It Right (published in the spring edition of The Quotable). As I wrote about sixteen-year-old Tyler living in Barrow, Alaska, and the terrible choice he made between mercy and vengeance, something awakened in my brain. It was Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. All over again, I remembered how I felt after I read that story. I remembered both the surprise ending and the lesson about tradition and free will. And then I knew I wanted to write something that also spoke a truth. While I may not hold a candle to The Lottery, I can aspire to writing the truth even when it’s easier not to. And that is my definition of writing.
Photo by: fernand0