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Reading and Discussion Questions on Lorrie Moore's “How to Become a Writer”

Read the story online.

1. How does the point of view from which this story is told affect the reader’s response to it?

2. Why does Francie, the narrator, begin by saying, “First, try to be something, anything, else” (274)? What is she trying to suggest about what it’s like to be a writer?

3. The story seems to be structured as a series of random episodes or accidents, but how random are they really? How does Francie’s response to them help to shape her career?

4. Those who read Francie’s writing keep telling her that she has no sense of plot, and the story at first may seem to bear out their judgments. However, the story is unified through various incidents and themes. What incidents keep recurring in her writing and in her life? How do these incidents and her responses to them change over time?

5. One consistent element in her stories is the idea of couples blowing themselves up or otherwise destroying themselves. How does this and other features of her writing express what is happening in her own life?

6. In what ways is this a comic story? What’s the nature of the humor? What elements or events are treated seriously?

7. How seriously does Francie take the instruction she’s getting in creative writing? What kinds of clichés about writers and a writer’s life does she address or satirize? Why does she resist becoming a writer?

8. In her ideas for her writing, Francie initially alludes to works or writers in other fields such as literature, music, and science. Where do these allusions occur, and how does she try to transform them? Why does she seem to drop these allusions and contrived plots near the end of the story?

9. Why does Francie’s mother try to discourage her?

10. Does the story really teach readers “how to become a writer”? What’s it saying about the nature of being a writer?