“Anything Helps” by Jess Walter

Recently, I attended the “Write by the Lake” workshop at University of Wisconsin at Madison. My specific session called “Creating Momentum” was focused on maintaining tension and conflict in every scene. In just one week, our teacher Tim Storm managed to pack in an incredible amount of helpful revision techniques.

One of the stories we read really stuck with me, and I’d love to share it with ya’ll. “Anything Helps” by Jess Walter debuted in McSweeney’s, was subsequently chosen for Best American Short Stories 2012, and is also included in his short story collection We Live in Water.

WeLiveinWater - Jess Walter

Here’s a little more about the author: Jess Walter is the author of six novels, most recently the New York Times bestseller Beautiful Ruins (2012). He was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for The Zero and winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel for Citizen Vince. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Playboy and other publications. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.

And now, a few questions to get your brain percolating:

– How does Walter go beyond the typical story of a homeless man down on his luck?

– How does he make you connect to the main character versus walking past, eyes averted, coins flung to the ground?

– How does Walter built tension throughout the story?

– Were any of the events in the story expected?

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