How to write like Lorrie Moore

Read Self Help – Stories. Like a tourist guide. First, note the story titles, how cleverly they articulate the theme. Close the book. Sweat because you are not Lorrie Moore. Wish you could kill this yearning to write, wring its wretched neck and bury it in bedrock where it will remain harmless for the next 40,000 years.

Start over. Open the book again. Note how she starts her story in the present tense. You hate the present tense. Acknowledge she is a great writer and you are a single cell amoeba. Learn to respect the present tense.

Start over. Read the first word that starts the story. It is a verb; a command. Read the first paragraph. It is a recipe for how to start an affair. “Meet in expensive beige raincoats, on a pea-soupy night. Like a detective movie.” Romantic. You know the character is reviewing the affair and setting you up. Like a movie. She is writing a screenplay. She is the director. Verbs start each sentence. Make it all inevitable. Just when you get annoyed with this device, she changes.

New character, new paragraph. All the sentences begin with “He”. He is an irresistible chocolate chip cookie. You kiss the cover of the book. You love Lorrie Moore for making you love him even though her short, choppy sentences are driving you mad and you ache for a sentence long enough to carry you away like an airplane to Bangkok. Which she does in the next story. Lots and lots and lots of long, looping, soap bubbly sentences. You forgive her for being Lorrie Moore.

Because she is Lorrie Moore she knows you crave humour; knows you love repetition; knows you love lists. She knows you love the frisson of a crazy metaphor like buttertarts as smooth as a ladybug.

And she lists! Lists! In the middle of a story! See a lavender aura around the book. Feel your bosom heave. Have tongue spasms when you read this: “In public restrooms you sit dangerously flat against the toilet seat, a strange flesh sundae of despair and exhilaration, murmuring into your bluing thighs: “Hello, I’m Charlene. I’m a mistress.” Long to lick the sensory details like a peeping Tom. Beg for a portal to bedrock, to sleep with no chance of dreaming for 40,000 years because you will never be Lorrie Moore.

Tremble as her character drifts from lists of things to lists of lists of failings. Drool like a hungry Labrador Retriever at her wandering plots that sharpen on whetstone paragraphs.

Eat subtext[1] so rich you vow to go on a Tom Clancy diet after you finish her book.

A metaphor 35 pages long makes you fat and hungry. This story about stealing, eating, consuming stuff to fill a hole where happiness is supposed to go. This story where the narrator’s mother is accused of being a loon[i] but you eventually discover who is really gaga.

You wish you could change point of view right now. Switch to first person. Write in the past tense. Reflect. Like she does but you would need a defibrillator to start your heart or an oxygen mask or a condom to protect yourself because you’ve fucked it up badly. So you stay in this awkward place trying to bring your character to life.

Stare at your widowed back yard neighbour’s windows. Try to turn her into a Mooresque character like the writer with cancer in Go Like This who decides to commit suicide and announces it at a dinner party. You read the penultimate paragraph of the story that sounds like Molly Bloom on her deathbed or e e cummings or Jose Saramago blindly stumbling punctuationless, braless, whizzing to death on a flying saucer of pills.

Put down your pen. Go to the kitchen. Eat a cinnamon bun. Do the laundry. Go back to bed. Read Sherman Alexie.

***

[1] In How to be an Other Woman, the story begins with “Meet in expensive beige raincoats.” The story is about an affair between a married man and a single woman. The opening sounds kind of glamorous but the word beige makes it feel bland and commonplace. The raincoat keeps coming up throughout the story but as it progresses, the female narrator gradually loses her sense of excitement. The affair becomes beige and the raincoat a cover-up.

[i] “When did my mother become such a loon?” but the entire story To Fill is about the emotional crumbling of the narrator as she steals from her employer to fill her house with stuff, to buy gifts for her hospitalized mother. In the words of Anne Lamott, when Americans get depressed they redecorate to fill the abyss.

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29 thoughts on “How to write like Lorrie Moore

  1. Manja Mexi Movie November 22, 2015 / 12:27 pm

    This is amusing to me because I have never heard of her (I pronounce her name so that it rhymes: Lorrie Moorrie), and I don’t know you enough to know how exactly I should read this, and I really can’t be bothered to fish her out and check for myself. (Right! Now I see in tags! Parody!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne November 22, 2015 / 1:03 pm

      I’m glad you found it amusing because it was intended to be. Thanks for reading it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Susanne November 22, 2015 / 12:30 pm

    Reblogged this on wuthering bites and commented:
    All fall, I’ve been doing an on-line writing course called Story is a State of Mind/Story Intensive. Our penultimate assignment was to analyze an author’s short stories and I chose Lorrie Moore. I am not an academic and have no desire to crank out an awful, plodding essay reminiscent of those written in my university years. Instead, I wrote an homage/parody of Ms. Moore’s quirky style. We were tasked with sharing this assignment in a public way and so here it be, shared from my non-fiction blog, Redo Sue.

    Like

    • Rosanna November 25, 2015 / 5:38 am

      I’m glad you wrote this, Sue. I’ve been thinking about that course for sometime, and now I know it’s not for me…anything fiction is too hard for me right now.

      But I like the way you analyzed the author’s style. You can be counted upon to come up with novel ways of writing. I still remember how beautifully and wittingly wrote about the blogging award you were given. I would have given you the most creative award acceptance post!

      I missed reading your posts, but will take time to catch up!

      Like

      • Susanne November 25, 2015 / 8:56 am

        So very happy to see you here, Rosanna! I confess I am significantly out of my comfort zone writing fiction and it is often excruciatingly hard but this course helps in many ways for fiction and non-fiction alike. For instance, drawing characters is equally important in both genres it’s just that in non-fiction you have someone who is real to work with versus crafting one from “magic”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rosanna November 26, 2015 / 12:48 am

        And so delighted to be here! I admire your courage in going out of your comfort zone and trying your hand at non-fiction. You’ve created such interesting characters in Wuthering Bites – and oh how I missed them!

        Like

  3. Bruce Goodman November 22, 2015 / 1:20 pm

    I don’t know Lorrie Moore’s works at all. But I enjoyed this, and especially the cinnamon bun.

    Like

      • Bruce Goodman November 22, 2015 / 1:21 pm

        Black coffee – one hefty sugar.

        Like

      • Susanne November 22, 2015 / 1:24 pm

        We’re twins! My cuppa, too, especially with something sweet like a cinnamon bun.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jean Bedard November 22, 2015 / 2:08 pm

    I thought you quit drinking coffee Sue?? Another vice to tempting to quit perhaps??
    I enjoyed this I thought about how I compare myself to well known guitarists and envy them to the point that taking comfort in a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee would be a better solution to my angst or worse drinking myself into unconsciousness!!

    Like

    • Susanne November 22, 2015 / 2:31 pm

      Jean, I have tried to quit coffee and have given up. It is my last remaining vice.

      As for Lorrie Moore, she is an incredible writer and I chose to pull apart just one of her many styles and imitate it. I don’t come close for a thousand reasons but it was fun to closely analyze her style to see how she makes strong, memorable stories and characters. Let’s not give up, Jean. Let’s keep trying. Quitting art isn’t an option for either of us.

      Like

      • Cynthia Jobin November 22, 2015 / 3:43 pm

        Who says coffee is a vice? It is a nectar of the gods!

        Like

  5. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner November 22, 2015 / 5:41 pm

    Oh, a ba-zillion times better than the ‘usual’ analysis assignment. I’m so intrigued that I’ve ordered my own copy of “Self Help-Stories” …and the espresso machine is warming up as I write. Cheers!

    Like

    • Susanne November 22, 2015 / 5:47 pm

      I hope you like it, Donna. She’s a heckuva storyteller with such a strong voice and her characters are unforgettable. Let me know what you think.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Luanne November 22, 2015 / 6:12 pm

    Now I need to go read her so I can fully appreciate this! You are so good, Ms. S. So good.

    Like

    • Susanne November 22, 2015 / 6:20 pm

      This came about as a result of doing an on-line writing course called Story is a State of Mind/Story Intensive. This exercise was supposed to be a straight-up analysis of Moore’s writing style but I just can’t do that kind of academic-y thing anymore so this is what I did instead. It isn’t entirely representative of her style but in this collection she does use the 2nd person POV a lot to great effect. I’m learning SO much from this course. It’s like a mini-MFA.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne November 22, 2015 / 6:38 pm

        Where is this course through?

        Like

      • Susanne November 22, 2015 / 7:57 pm

        I can’t remember how I found out about it – maybe another blogger? Anyway, it was created by a Canadian writer named Sarah Selecky and it is her baby. Here’s a link with some info. http://www.sarahselecky.com/story/

        Like

  7. dawnkinster November 23, 2015 / 12:01 pm

    Well, you’ve made me curious enough to go read some of her work. But I really enjoy reading YOUR work!

    Like

    • Susanne November 24, 2015 / 6:45 pm

      Merci, Dawn! I had fun writing this. Maybe check out a Lorrie Moore book from the lie-berry rather than invest in a whole volume. I understand she’s not everyone’s cup of tea. See exiledprospero’s comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. exiledprospero November 23, 2015 / 3:48 pm

    Whimsy not having been inculcated in me from a sufficiently early age, I find Lorrie Moore difficult. A stylistic parody of Laurie Moore is understandably even more flummoxing. Not all is lost on me though: the metaphoric usage of the drabness of the color beige and the functionality of raincoats strikes me as brilliant.

    Like

    • Susanne November 24, 2015 / 6:44 pm

      Ooh. Flummoxed. Maybe there’s an antibiotic for that?

      Liked by 1 person

      • exiledprospero November 24, 2015 / 9:15 pm

        Antibiotics are so yesterday. A pseudobezoar is a currently the bee’s knees.

        Like

  9. exiledprospero November 27, 2015 / 8:24 am

    Sue, here is another creative non fiction publication. The theme is wanderlust. I know you have some travel stories.
    http://severinelit.weebly.com/

    Like

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