RUNAWAY | Alice Munro’s “Runaway”: The Mundane and Pastoral as Character


Munro has been called our modern day Chekhov, the master of short form. She lets the reader come to his or her own conclusion on characters, settings, motivations and even outcomes. Using fully her setting, Munro builds for the reader details and imagery that reflect the heart of her storytelling in every facet, no word or syllable left to chance. Furthermore, Munro’s stories often lead us into pastoral settings that diverge from the breakneck, urban, technological pace many readers find familiar. The pastoral allows the reader to pull back a moment, focus on the natural, the mundane, the agricultural.  In “Runaway” we revisit this pastoral element particularly in “Flora,” a pet goat belonging to Carla and Clark. In Flora, we find reflections of humanity, passivity, affection and a very real and burgeoning violence:

At first she had been Clark’s pet entirely, following him everywhere, dancing for his attention. She was quick and graceful and provocative as a kitten, and her resemblance to a guileless girl in love had made them both laugh. But as she grew older she seemed to attach herself to Carla, and in this attachment she was suddenly much wiser, less skittish — she seemed capable, instead, of a subdued and ironic sort of humor. Carla’s behavior with the horses was tender and strict and rather maternal, but the comradeship with Flora was quite different, Flora allowing her no sense of superiority. (Read More at Barnes and Noble)

In “Runaway,” the narrator might have simply informed the reader of Carla and Clark’s personality differences in a direct manner, but instead, the narrator reflects these differences through the interactions the characters have with community members, the mobile home they’ve renovated, and of course, Flora. Flora becomes something of a thermometer in their relationship. As the anticipated violence and tension ramps up in the narrative, so does our concern for Flora, and likewise, for Carla. In many ways, Flora comes to reflect Carla’s state of being.

By creating Carla’s story through the experiences of her pet goat, Munro offers more depth and facets to the narrative. She allows the reader room in which to navigate the landscape and how we feel about the landscape. By the end of the narrative, Flora’s fate both reflects and acts as catalyst for Carla’s choices and the reader is able to experience a multi-tiered resonance for Flora and Carla.


Writing Exercise

Choose a short story you’ve already written which includes a seemingly weak protagonist. Identify what weaknesses this protagonist has. Physical? Mental? Social? Now follow the steps below:

  1. Make a quick list of animals, plants or nonliving items that reflect the protagonist’s weaknesses. (Do this quickly, a free-write. Hurriedly write without thinking too hard on it.)
  2. Now, narrow your list to three to five entities that strike you as particularly interesting.
  3. Give each of these entities it’s own page and spend five minutes on each in a free-writing activity. In turn, write one page (five minutes, no more) on why each entity reflects the protagonist, or you might explore the entity in fictional narrative; however, you best free-write.)
  4. Narrow your free-writes and entities further. Try to pick a favorite. If you are having trouble choosing which of the entities most interests you as a reflection of your protagonist then choose two or three to keep.
  5. Now, find a section in the original story when your protagonist could use some further fleshing. Add a new paragraph, two or three, using your favorite entity. Consider how you can weave this new entity into the longer narrative. Does it fit? Does it feel organic? Do you see possibility? If not, try another entity and see how it feels. 

Keep working with your chosen reflection entities until you happen upon a moment that strikes you as essential and when this happens, enjoy. You have now added a further dimension to your protagonist, narrative and overall structure. Consider how this new dimension might weave further into the narrative. There are no perfect or formulaic ways to do this. You must let this happen organically, as it comes to you, as the narrative and your characters require it. Always keep your original copies so that if you find, down the road, that this new dimension isn’t shaping up the way you had hoped, you can return to the original. Nothing lost and much gained. The explorations we do for our characters, whether or not we use them actively on the page, furthers and deepens our knowledge of them. 


Writing Guidelines

First Draft: As you explore and weave new dimensions into your narrative, remember, this will essentially be a first draft again so let your creativity go where it needs to go. If you discover something entirely new about your characters, allow this to continue, keep writing. You might find you have an entirely new story or an additional story. This is okay. Let your characters lead you. 

Second Draft: You aren’t under any quick turnaround deadlines, so take your time with this draft. Don’t worry yet about the line edits and so on. Be curious and authentic to your narrative and characters. Ask questions, logic questions, personality questions, detail questions.

Third Draft: Read through again, and revise for language and lyricism. Now, lay the work aside for at least a day, few weeks, months, before your next step. In the meantime, explore another narrative and protagonist.

Join Us for a Group Workshop: Consider joining us for a group or one on one workshop where you can receive feedback on your story and protagonist. We’d be very happy to have you with us.


The Award Series Forum

The Award Series Forum is an additional option for students who wish to engage with other students and their works from The Award Series Workshops. It is strictly for student writers. Faculty will not be engaging, reading work submitted or giving feedback on work submitted to this forum. It is up to individual students if they wish to submit and engage in The Award Series Forum. Students of The Award Series Workshop should not submit to or engage with other group forums. Please play nicely. 


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