Emma McKinny’s story “Windsong,” published in the October 2019 issue of Stone Soup, is about going to a performance of Dr. Atomic, an opera by John Adams with libretto by Peter Sellers. Her father is the lead singer. You can use your research skills to get information on the actual performance and its reviews online, but here we want to focus on one element of the story–the way in which Emma frames her narrative. Framing is the subject of this writing project.
The basic history you need to know is that the United States invented and tested the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico during World War II. The bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were developed in Los Alamos. These bombs ended the war with Japan, which surrendered after they were dropped. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of civilizations were killed by these weapons, whole sections of the two cities that were the victims of these bombs were obliterated. These bombs gave humans god-like powers which J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the lab, and the Doctor in the opera’s title, Dr. Atomic, understood. He quickly became concerned about the consequences of his invention. You also need to know that Los Alamos is visible from Santa Fe and this is especially true at night when its lights glow from the mountain ridge where it is located.
“Windsong” takes place in the Santa Fe Opera House, a fabulous outdoor theater that sits under the distant gaze of Los Alamos, the place where the bomb-making that is the center of the opera’s story took place. The author goes through a huge emotional experience during the Opera performance. Those of you who attend operas, ballet, and traditional theater may have experienced these deep emotional moments. And then there is the clapping. And the lights go back up. And then you have to get up from your seat and make your way home, behaving normally, with this deeply emotional experience still inside you: “turmoil boiling in the pit of” ones stomach, as Emma puts it. To help the reader understand her experience, and express it herself, she gives her feeling and emotion to the wind which blows through the Santa Fe Opera house. She whispers to the wind the same good-luck phrase she had called out to her father in the beginning, thus transferring the art of the opera and the performers to nature. Let the wind howl, like a wolf, adding its voice to the power of theater.
Write a story where an element at the beginning–a framing device–introduces a powerful idea into the story, that you can use to develop your story, and then return to at the end to convey even greater depth of meaning to it. To help you see how this can work, read “Windsong“.
In “Windsong,” the phrase “in bocca al lupo,” introduces a series of related ideas about sound and the elements: it relates to the wind, a wolf’s howl, the power of art and performance, all of which carry through the whole story in various ways. When the author of the story comes back to that same phrase at the end, we all have a greater depth of understanding that allows us to read even more into it.
When you plan your story, think about your key message and image, and think of a way you can introduce it as a framing device early on. Try to carry your framing device through your story, and then, as in “Windsong“, come back to it explicitly towards the end. By this stage, if you have woven the ideas into your story, your frame–and your story–will have great depth.