A story I often find myself reflecting on, with no prompting, is 45 Years. It’s a British drama based on the short story “In Another Country” by David Constantine.
While the movie portrays some of the most ordinary events you can imagine, the context of those events amplifies every scene. It’s about a married couple planning their 45th wedding anniversary right when a stunning revelation surfaces from the husband’s past.
Without the context of the anniversary—which is right there in the movie title—the story wouldn’t be half as affecting. In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, Monica Wood discusses how context is a “descriptive background in a story that sheds light on its meaning.” And, as she points out, it’s larger than plot:
Context provides forward motion at the emotional level, using symbols and metaphors that reinforce emerging themes in a story. It also can serve the practical purpose of organizing the physical movement of a story into beginning, middle, and end.
She goes on to offer a few excellent examples, including Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome (the context of a cruel New England winter) and A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (the family-owned and generations-old thousand acres of land). Read Creating Context.
Also in this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin:
- On Beginning with Image by Rachael Uwada Clifford
- The Leap by Robin Halevy
- Language and War by Siamak Vossoughi
- A Vessel for History, Life with Maline, and Other Fictions by Andra Nicolescu
- A 20 Year Itch by Cat Seto
- Vandals, Romans, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves by Kent Wascom
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.