Podcast

Structuring Your Story: 5 Questions for Chaitali Sen

You have to figure out what you’re trying to do, what you’re trying to say, and how you want to say it– you have to bring your own vision to life. That is a lot of work, but if you’re willing to do it, you can end up with something you’re really proud of.” -Chaitali Sen

Chaitali Sen is the author of the novel The Pathless Sky (Europa Editions, 2015) and short stories and essays which have appeared in Boulevard, Colorado Review, Ecotone, LitHub, Los Angeles Review of Books, New England Review, Shenandoah, and other publications. Her story collection A New Race of Men from Heaven was selected by Danielle Evans as the winner of the 2021 Mary McCarthy Prize for Short Fiction and is forthcoming from Sarabande Books in January 2023. The Pathless Sky was a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Best First Fiction, and included on Idra Novey’s Buzzfeed list “10 Books That Challenge Our Political Landscape by Inventing New Ones,” Library Journal’s “Top Fall Indie Fiction,” and Mic.com’s “25 Essential Reads to Make Women’s History Last Longer than a Month.” She holds an MFA in Fiction from Hunter College and lives in Smithville, Texas. For more information about Chaitali Sen, please visit her website https://chaitalisen.com.
 

On Saturday, October 22nd, Chaitali Sen is teaching a class for the WLT called “The Art of Pacing: Macro and Micro Methods to Keep Your Story Moving. In this class you’ll learn strategies for organizing plot and structuring narrative.

Here’s what Chaitali had to share with us:


Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Chaitali Sen: I write fiction, short and long. I got interested in writing in 6th grade, when one of the only valuable things my teacher did was make us write a story every week. I was also becoming an avid reader at that time, so every story was “inspired” by what I happened to be reading at the time.

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

CS: Mainly not dwelling in that difficult spot for too long. I do what I can to chip away at the problem and then I move on, and often a solution to the problem will present itself when it’s ready, or when I’m doing something else like looking at paintings or listening to music. I don’t keep a journal about my life, but I do keep a journal about my writing, and that’s where I work out a lot of my questions, ideas, and angst.

Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

CS: Yes, but it’s not always a reliable feeling and it doesn’t carry over to the next project. I reach a point where I think I know what I’m doing with a particular piece, but I don’t know if it’s true until some time has passed. After I re-read what I did, if I still think it worked, then it was true that I really did know what I was doing. I recently read a story of mine for probably the 50th time since it was first published, because it’s being reprinted in an anthology and I was proofreading the galley. For that story, the feeling has lasted a long time, several years. At other times, I’ll have the feeling I know what I’m doing and it doesn’t last long at all, for good reason.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

CS: Feedback from others can only get you so far. In the end, it is your work and no one else is going to care about it as much as you do. You have to figure out what you’re trying to do, what you’re trying to say, and how you want to say it– you have to bring your own vision to life. That is a lot of work, but if you’re willing to do it, you can end up with something you’re really proud of.

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

CS: That pacing issues are most often a symptom of more fundamental problems that need to be resolved. You have to try get to the root of the problem.

Thanks, Chaitali!

Click here to learn more about Chaitali Sen’s upcoming class.

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