Tragically, Mrs. Kelly did not survive, leaving Franklin without his happy ending. The story no longer had the uplifting conclusion of medicine triumphing over life-threatening disease. According to Franklin, Ducker said himself: “People don’t want
Not Quite a Miracle—they want a miracle.” Franklin realized the story was better this way because it was unexpected. “The story is a classic of white knight and maiden, and in this case the white knight failed. But… he had to get up after that and go in and work on somebody else.”
If you’re surprised, the reader will be too. Follow the unexpected.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of despair after reading Franklin’s Pulitzer Prize–winning story. He depicts Mrs. Kelly as terminal; her surgeons are powerless. However, as we accept her death, we find solace in the fact that she is free of the “monster” that’s terrorized her for years.
The story evokes emotion by not directly showing emotion. Franklin tells the story straight with details, vivid imagery, and tight dialogue. No spin or interpretation, and yet it evokes emotions because it’s greater than the sum of its parts, raising larger questions about the limits of medicine, the archetypal battle of good versus evil, and humans’ eternal struggle with making sense of our own mortality.
Emotion vs. Feeling: How to Evoke More From Readers) Give readers an extract of reality
Readers don’t want reality, according to Franklin. “Reality is confusing, boring, it lacks emphasis.” What the reader wants is an
extract of reality. “The reader and editor want a story with a minimum of loose ends, a tale that’s been simplified and crystallized in such a way that it clarifies and enlarges the mind. They don’t want reality, they want Truth, and that’s not the same thing at all.”
Franklin had been regularly seeing a psychotherapist while writing Mrs. Kelly’s Monster. From his perspective, therapy improved his writing. He thinks of his brain as a tool and is continually striving to use it better. He said his second Pulitzer was a direct result of the psychotherapeutic process. “It [therapy] helped me recognize how my mind worked and what part of my mind was mine and what part was universal. Jung was right—at some level our brains are all alike and at some level they’re all different. The part that’s interesting is how they’re all alike. That tells you what story is.”
Writing with fire
Mrs. Kelly’s Monster was published in two parts on separate days. By the end of Part I, it wasn’t clear whether Mrs. Kelly would die, and hundreds of readers called the newspaper, jamming up the switchboard wanting to know the story’s outcome before Part II was released.
It was a potent story, the best of Jon Franklin’s illustrious career. Franklin says his heart was beating fast when he finished the first draft of Mrs. Kelly’s Monster. He knew the story was powerful. The story had scared him. He said it was frightening to be “in contact” with such a story: “living in the story just like the reader’s going to.” In his interview with Williams, he recalled a quote from the author John Steinbeck who told the
Paris Review: “I’ve held fire in my hands.”
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