Runaway is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Creative Response. For a detailed guide on Creative Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Creative Writing.
The biggest challenge of the creative writing SAC in VCE is figuring out how to balance your own ideas and style with that of the text you’re studying. The assessment requires you to incorporate elements of a text into your writing without copying the original narrative. In this case, Runaway by Alice Munro (2004) is a short story collection that explores themes of marriage, loss, mother/daughter relationships, womanhood and more. To be able to emulate Munro’s writing style within your original piece, it’s important to analyse the most frequent devices she incorporates into her work. By focusing specifically on the three stories ‘Chance’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Silence’, we can understand how Munro writes and how to embed that into a Creative Response.
If you would like more information on the themes in Runaway, you can refer to this blog post.
Literary devices can be defined as the techniques that an author uses in writing to convey meaning and their ideas within their work. These devices construct the story and emphasise key themes, which are particularly important to note when studying a text in VCE English. There are many devices that you may already be familiar with - metaphors, similes and repetition are commonly used in a variety of types of writing. For example, repetition of a certain word or phrase within a text highlights that it has significance and is reinforcing a particular idea or theme. By identifying which literary devices an author prefers to include in their novel, you can gain an understanding of their style and have a practical method for emulating it within a Creative Response. Below is a breakdown of some of the techniques woven by Munro throughout ‘Chance’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Silence.’
An embedded narrative is like a story within a story, often with the intention of lending symbolic significance to the narrative. In ‘Chance’, Munro includes many references to Greek mythology, embedding a story within the broader narrative. The myths she has chosen are similar to events in Juliet’s life, creating an intentional comparison.
For instance, Juliet’s affection for Eric prompts her to visit his home where she meets Christa and Ailo, two women Eric has had a relationship with. Upon meeting them, Juliet is reminded of ‘Briseis and Chryseis’, who were ‘playmates’ of a Greek king. Munro’s use of this embedded narrative within Juliet’s story reveals how Juliet feels jealous of the two women and sees them as incapable of having a serious relationship with Eric. To echo this in a Creative Response, you might want to include either a myth, folktale or historical event that relates to your narrative and the characters within it.
Time progression/regression refers to jumping back and forwards in time within a story to give context to certain characters or events. For example, the narrative moves back and forth in ‘Silence’ to slowly reveal the before and after of Juliet and Penelope’s estrangement. This helps to inform the reader of Penelope’s motives for no longer speaking to Juliet, and how Juliet deals with the pain of losing a relationship with her daughter. Any movement through time is typically shown through section breaks in the writing, as it alerts the reader that one scene has ended and a new one has begun. These moments might interrupt the chronological narrative, or you might choose to jump backwards and forwards consistently, although this can make your piece more complicated.
‘Epistolary’ is defined as literary work ‘in the form of letters’. Munro weaves elements of this within Runaway, including letters within several of the stories. The letters help to convey the narrative through one character’s perspective, providing insight into their motivations and perspectives. This is particularly effective when the story is written in the third person, as a letter is usually in the first person, allowing for characters to be understood on a deeper level.
In ‘Soon’, Juliet’s letter to Eric demonstrates their intimacy as a couple. Munro has constructed the letter so that it contains very mundane details about Juliet’s time with Sara, instead of just the exciting or alarming news she might have to share. The personal nature of the letter conveys just how close Eric and Juliet are, and how different her relationship with him is from that with Sara. Epistolary elements can be easily included as a small section of a Creative Response as correspondence between two of your characters.
Finally, Munro often uses italics to emphasise certain words or phrases that are particularly important. Italics can also convey the tone of a character, as they might draw attention to some words spoken in excitement or anger. For example, when Juliet meets Joan at the church in ‘Silence’, Joan’s dialogue often has italics to highlight when she is making passive-aggressive remarks about Juliet’s relationship with Penelope. Munro is demonstrating that Joan has been influenced by Penelope in her opinion of Juliet, as she clearly dislikes her and speaks in a condescending manner towards her. You might decide to implement italics only in dialogue, or to use it in other parts of your response, to highlight an important moment within the plot.
Tips for Emulating Munro’s Style
While emulating the style of an author is an important component of a Creative Response, coming up with your own ideas is equally important! To find an idea that you are invested in, think about the parts of Runaway that really spoke to you and that you would like to explore more; this could be a broad theme or a specific character. It is easier to write about something you are interested in than something you feel obligated to write about. Come up with potential responses that you are excited to write, and then plan accordingly by asking “How can I incorporate parts of Munro’s style into this piece?”
To plan out your piece, start by creating a simple plot structure to guide your writing. If it helps, this can include a 3-act structure consisting of a set-up, conflict, and resolution; or you might prefer to do a simple dot point plan instead. When considering what literary devices you would like to include, pick at least one literary technique, and work on making it fit with your idea. Focus on incorporating that one as best as you can before you move on to another one. You might want to pick a second technique that is more subtle, like italics, and start applying that in your second or third draft.