by whatever means necessary

“[Saunders]…In a certain way, if you keep trying to serve the story you would inadvertently or unwittingly push something into a three-act structure.

Guernica: In steering away from your own drift…

George Saunders: I think so. Someone told me once–I mean I said, “Is it ok that I don’t really know what the three-act structure is?” And he said, “It’s basically: Act 1–a guy climbs up a tree; Act 2–people come and throw stuff at him; Act 3–he gets down.”

Guernica: [laughs]

George Saunders: It’s like that with any story. If I say, “Oh, I got so wasted last night, and I drove my car into the Mississippi and then a fish came up and bit me on the ass and luckily I was able to swim to shore,” that’s a three-act structure. I spent a lot of time when I was in my twenties really torturing myself about things like scene and plot and character and stucture–is this a story? is this a novella? So, you know, and then I realized, “Actually, dumbass, all I have to do is keep the reader’s attention for twenty pages, by whatever means necessary.”

-George Saunders, interviewed in Guernica. He has a great short story in the New Yorker now. Via T.B.