Lists, lists, lists

From Kill Zone Blog, this:

Good Lists Make Great Stories

Okay, fine, I’m mildly interested. I do kind of like lists in daily life. Here’s how the post begins:

On a recent drive to a workshop event, I was listening to Jodi Picoult’s novel, SMALL GREAT THINGS. Near the beginning, Ruth, a Labor and Delivery nurse, describes all the things that need to be observed during a newborn’s physical assessment. It’s a long list of  over a dozen items, including measuring the circumference of the infant’s head, its sucking reflex, the relative softness of its belly, the location of the urethra, etc.

I got very excited when I recognized the list as a list because I was planning an exercise about using lists in fiction during the workshop.

Now, this was interesting to me. You know how I assess a newborn puppy? I weigh it, but “good” puppies can weigh anything from less than five ounces to twelve ounces. My current two puppies, both singletons, one five and a half ounces and one ten and a half ounces.

Anyway, I basically just think: Looks fine. Or, Does not look fine.

A “looks fine” puppy should feel firm, not limp; should be warm, not cool; should try to nurse within six hours or so (earlier is nice); should twitch when asleep (activated sleep); and should not cry continually, at least not once you get it home. Five things, but basically it’s a gestalt impression: the puppy is fine.

The bigger puppy cried continually at the vet, tired herself out, and did not try to nurse for an hour or two after she was at home. She was too tired to nurse. I tube-fed her a little formula one time just to get her started and that was it. I was not worried about her. (Later, after she aspirated milk into her lung, was a different story.)

The little puppy did not cry much, was not so tired, and started nursing immediately. I tube-fed her a few times a day for three days or so, but I was never worried about her even though she lost weight at first and did not start to gain until the third day. It’s true that with zero support from me, she might have faded. But with only very basic support, she thrived.

Measure the circumference of the infant’s head. Huh. Do we not expect a lot of size variance in babies? Five ounce puppy, ten ounce puppy, that is a HUGE difference, but it doesn’t matter, both can be perfectly vigorous and healthy puppies. Sure, it’s nice to have the puppies on the big side, but it’s not important. I wonder how tiny a baby’s head has to be before it ticks off a “be worried” box on the nurse’s chart. And I wonder whether experienced nurses learn to shrug and say, “Well, this one is small, but she seems fine to me.”

Well, moving on. Once we drag our minds back to the subject of lists, what is this post actually about? How would we use lists in writing?

Ah, here we have several examples of lists used to establish character. Sometimes lists used stylistically. I like this one:

Mary Oliver

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”

― Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

I want, I want, I want…Imagine playing with the form of your short story (it would be too long for a novel), beginning every line with a word or phrase. A list of wants, shaped into a story.

That would be an interesting technique for a story … I guess … provided both author and reader were having fun with style and perhaps less interested in the story as a story. But it reminds me of Naomi Kritzer’s “cooking blog” apocalypse story, “So Much Cooking.”

In a sense, that was a story that emphasized lists, as recipes are certainly lists. Or certainly include lists, anyway.

The author of the post adds,

…Think of your own lists: grocery lists, wishlists, self-improvement lists, lists of goals, bucket lists. There are as many lists as people in the world.

Think about what kinds of lists your characters might make. If your character is a serial killer, imagine her Home Depot shopping list. Imagine the prescriptions her elderly victims take.

I have to agree, that kind of thing might be entertaining. Think about the kind of equipment a … dragon slayer, say … might need. Remember Aerin in The Hero and the Crown gathering the things she needed to fight the dragon; the fire-repellent goop was, of course, a fairly important plot point and also a means of developing Aerin’s character. All that super-patient, super-persistent experimentation to find the recipe that worked!

The main character of (one of) my current WIP, though, starts off with an anti-list — he arrives at the opening of the story with almost nothing at all, for very good reasons.

Whatever your to-do list for this weekend might include, I hope you find time to read a good book! I will be reading Mapping Winter, as well as showing Leda in a local-ish show.

Since I opened and closed this post with Puppies, here’s a couple current pictures of my babies:

A puppy and her father
A black-and-tan puppy practices being super cute

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2 thoughts on “Lists, lists, lists”

  1. That black and tan shows a lot of personality in the look on his face.

    I ran across an article recently on the newborn scoring system and how it started
    If you’re interested:

    Virginia understood the importance of checking the five vital signs at one minute after birth. Each of these is given a score of zero, one, or two. A total score of seven to ten is considered normal, while four to six necessitates some intervention to stimulate, for example breathing, and a score below three leads to emergency treatment. Few babies get a perfect ten one minute after birth, as the circulation—oxygenated blood—often hasn’t reached the fingers and toes fully, so these can still be blue.

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