Friday, May 31, 2013

Writer's Update/Writing Craft: Place and Setting

Best thing about winter:
I get to wear my scarves! 
Wow! So it's been a pretty full-on week for me. Though I can't complain; the girl next door is studying bio-medical science... now THAT'S rough. This week I finished my final Writing Craft assignment, which consisted of a 1,500 word creative piece on 'place as encounter'; my Writing for Professional Practice Assignment, which consisted of a 250 word media release, a 500 word newsletter interview profile and a 500 word opinion piece; and I attended a poetry reading in Melbourne, hosted by the Emerging Writer's Festival, which I plan on basing my final Journalism assignment on. I'm feeling pretty run-down and the winter blues are starting to creep in on me, but I've got one more week of classes before the semester is over and it's going to be great!

So let's get this blog up-to-date with my Writing Craft lecture notes!

Where? Place and Setting

Readings for this week were The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schultz (pages 25-35), The Deadman Dance by Kim Scott (pages 1-5, 7, 9-14), The Easter Hare by Leah Swann (pages 164-176) and The Line by David Brooks (pages 319-321).

For something to happen, it has to happen SOMEWHERE. It isn't possible for something to happen nowhere. Setting can be established by combining the where and the when of the story, and I say 'when' as well here because you could be standing somewhere and then a hundred years later that somewhere is going to be very different. Readers want to be grounded and given a setting; a place for the action in the story to occur. The setting or place in and of itself becomes a type of character and can change what a reader expect to happen next, what mood the piece will have, etc.

Our lecturer went on to explain that a story consists of character and setting (who, where and when?). Eliminating one of this elements could make a story hard or impossible to write or be engaging. So from this, we have a checklist:
- Stories need to have a temporal 'location'. You need to know 'when?'
- Stories need to be 'placed' somewhere in the world or in other worlds. 'Where?'
- Stories need to be populated with 'beings' that the reader can invest in. To be engaging, they probably need to want something.
- Characters need to want something in a specific place and at a particular time.
- The time and place will impact on the things the character wants and the things they'll do to try to get them.

When we're establishing a place, we have to remember that in real life, a setting stimulates all of the senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. Think about what you could bring in from different aspects of your senses to really enrich the scene.

Think of your favourite book or movie. What kind of a setting does it have? Imagine removing the setting from this work or making it only vague and sketchy. What is the effect? 

My immediate thought was Harry Potter without Hogwarts. The story would be so different without Hogwarts. Share yours below.

- Bonnee.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Writing Craft: Character and Dialogue

I am a week behind in telling you what I've been learning in my Writing Craft classes, so you can expect two posts again this week, hopefully, if I can keep on top of things. So here is a recap of my lesson from last week.

Who? Character and Dialogue

Readings for week 9 were The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx (pages 1-11), The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (pages 5-10) and People Like That are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk by Lorrie Moore (pages 212-250). 

The first thing my lecturer wanted to stress was that dialogue is NOT the same as conversation; it is more structured and less random. Dialogue is action and should either move the story forward or develop a character. The thing is, dialogue is not supposed to be perfectly realistic, because that's boring. So the lecturer gave us some tips: 
- Think of dialogue as a summary of dialogue; capture the essence of what is being communicated and don't fluff around with it. 
- "Attribution is part of the sentence," he said. "Keep attribution simple!"
- Each new speaker should start speaking on a new paragraph. 
- Vary the speech lengths. 
- It's not how people speak in real life; it has the boring bits edited out. 

That was all pretty straight-forward, though it shocks me to realise how many people DON'T know to put a new speaker on a new line. I can sort of understand people who get a little... carried away with the attributions. That was me, once. I have been very guilty of not-so-simple attributions. But I found it almost interesting to consider how unrealistic dialogue could be. It makes perfect sense though, otherwise, every time two characters encountered each other, you'd have a conversation that would run: 
"Hey, how are you?"
"Hi there, I'm good thanks, and yourself?"
"Yeah, pretty great. What's been happening?" 
"Oh you know, just the usual..." 

Moving on, our lecturer discussed 'character' with us. For the more experienced writers out there, I think it's common knowledge that the reader should be able to identify with the characters, especially you protagonist, whether they are the hero or the villain, and with all flaws accounted for. Something that I definitely agree with is that there is - at least, at times - an artificiality to naming character, because they are already fully realised 'beings', which is what can make the task so difficult. I don't know about you guys, but I RARELY know what my characters names are going to be when I think of a story, unless I think of the character before I think of the story, and even then... 

When we create a character, we should try to create a fresh image to describe them, and avoid cliches. Take into consideration how many other people might have already written about the same basic character that you're about to throw into a story of your own. How can you make YOUR character stand out against other similar characters? Find those finer, fresher details. 

Why do we need characters and what do characters do in a story? Basically, you can't write a story without characters. The reader observes characters and observes the rest of the story THROUGH characters (focalisation). Similar to dialogue, we cut out all the parts of what real people do in order to make characters; Shakespeare never writes about Hamlet going to the toilet, and no author would unless it was somehow relevant to the rest of the story. 

Something that we might want to consider when creating our characters is whether, like real people, we speak in different voices depending on who is with us and what the circumstances are. I would NOT speak to my mother the same way I speak to my best friend. Like people, characters are not a fixed point in time; they can be influenced and changed by what happens around them, and should be. Character development, right there. The central character of a story needs to be an agent struggling for his or her own goals, not just a victim, subject to the will of others. Our lecturer said that failure to see that the central character must act, not just be acted upon, is a common mistake, especially in beginners. 

Where do characters come from? The answer has nothing to do with what happens when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much. We discussed this question both in the lecture and in the tutorial, and some of the things we came up with were: 
- Real life (though this can make them hard to manipulate if we try and stay true to the original person)
- What we WISH real life to be like
- Imagination
- Through observing and adding up pieces you notice in people
- Within ourselves
- All of the above.

Our lecturer also explained that a lot of characters we see in writing, including our own though we may not realise it, come from archetypes. Someone else in the lecture theatre used the word 'prototype' to help define what this means. The lecturer described it as an imprint of a pattern of human behaviour; they are characters who are up-front, with no subtext. We give them subtext and make them unique when we take them and built on their original base-form of an archetype. The example we were given was from medieval theatre, where there'd be the rogue, the clown and the fool. 

How do you use dialogue? What's your favourite quote from a book? 

Where do your characters come from? Who is your all-time favourite character, either from something you've read or from your own writing? 

- Bonnee. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writer's Update/Writing Craft: Focalisation

A quick little writer's update before I get stuck into the second half of what we learned in our lecture last week; I was happy with the mark I received for my second Writing Craft assignment, in which students had to use a memory as a basis for a 1,500 word piece. I got a High Distinction and good feedback. Yesterday, I started writing my piece for the third and final assignment of the semester, in which we have to pick a place (real or imaginary) as the setting for an encounter, again, to make a 1,500 word piece. I've decided to challenge myself and write in second-person point of view and present tense, while my default is usually third-person and past tense. So far, I am really happy with it. It's my turn to workshop again next week, I believe, so I'm looking forward to some criticism and feedback from my writing group.

As of last week, I have also become a sort of unofficial active representative of the Deakin Writer's club. I have volunteered to spread the word about the Deakin Writer's Club to people in my Writing Craft tutorial, including to my tutor. While I haven't had anything published in it myself (mostly because I haven't really submitted anything), I am looking forward to introducing more writers to the circle.

The Gardiner's Creek track between res and the campus.
You honestly wouldn't know that I live near the city...
I love going for walks along the creek. Very relaxing.
Who? Focalisation

First of all, on Australianisms: our lecturer and tutors etc. are trying to encourage us to not use American spelling, because, well, we're not American. That means they are actually taking marks off us if they find 'colour' spelled 'color' or 'realise' spelled 'realize' in our work. Because that's just the Australian way, so there. I actually didn't realise that the 'z' instead of an 's' was a thing until they started pointing it out. Doesn't that just go to show how infected by American culture Australia is becoming? So I spell it 'focalisation' with an 's' and those of you who aren't in Australia can spell it 'focalization' with a 'z'.

When we think of focalisation, my lecturer says we should think of who is seeing (similar to point of view), but also, that we should think of who knows. Our lecturer told us about this guy called Genette who described focalisation as "a selection or restriction of narrative information in relation to experience and knowledge of the narrator, character or other, more hypothetical entities in the story world." Genette distinguishes between three different degrees of focalisation:
- Zero focalisation: a narrative with an omniscient narrator, who knows more than the characters do. This is also described by some narratologists as 'vision from behind'. It's really only relevant if you're writing in third person.
- Internal focalisation: when the main character(s) and the narrator know the same amount. This is also called 'vision within', 'narrative with point of view', or with 'restricted field' because we are restricted to what the character knows. This can be relevant for both third person and first person, because in first person, the main character is the narrator.
- External focalisation: when the narrator knows less than the character, also known as 'vision from without'. This style is more objective and behaviourist. It works well if you want an unreliable narrator, who cannot clue the reader in on what a character's silent motivations are, etc. Relevant for first and third person.

But is this really an definite definition of what focalisation is? Nope! Congratulations, my dear readers; you have fallen into the same trap as me, thinking that education will answer questions, when it really has an awful tendency of creating more. According to our lecturer, the definition and explanation of focalisation is one that is often debated and lots of modifications, counter-theories and extensions have been made to what Genette originally proposed as a framing. It's a confusing area of writing and now a whole lecture theatre full of students have joined in the chaos, and so have you!

Personally, I am happy to stick with Genette's framing of it.

What would you consider focalisation to be? 

- Bonnee.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Writing Craft: Point of View

I big apology to all my fellow bloggers who haven't seen much of me lately, but I guess this is what happens when I study. Also: I forgot to bring a pen to my lecture last week and only just watched it online to get some notes. I love taking notes! So this post, I'll share some of what I learned in our eighth lecture. We looked in to point of view and focalisation this lesson, but I'll put the two topics into separate posts, because there was a lot to take in.

Who? Point of View

Readings for week 8 were On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami (pages 68-72) and Revisions: A Found Story by Frank Moorhouse (pages 250-258).

My older followers will know how much I love Haruki Murakami. I got way too excited when I saw that he was in the readings for the week. I was not disappointed.

Our lecturer started off by stating that writers, especially beginners, often don't realise how much they can play with and move around in point of view. The point of view is the position or vantage point from which a story is given. It's the WHO that is speaking and it can often be defined in grammatical categories. I think those of us who have been writing for a while already know the basics, but for those who don't:
- 1st person: the 'I'.
- 2nd person: the 'you'.
- 3rd person: the 'he'/'she'/'it'.
- The plurals: 'we'/'they'/'yous'

As writers, point of view is a tool we use to transform the same plot, narrative arc, characters, or setting. The point of view we choose to write in will contribute to the style or the 'feel' of the piece and can be related to the ratio of telling:showing that is acceptable.

One guy our lecturer told us about by the name of Lubbock made two categories for point of view in terms of having a narrator:
- The traditional method of relating a story, in which the narrator is prominent, called Plato's diegesis. Here, the narrator outright tells the story.
- A newer method in which the narrator retreats into to the background, called Plato's mimesis. Here, the story and characters and what the reader is shown is a copy or reflection of life.

Lubbock continued to list his four points of view in order of most telling to least telling.
- 3rd person narration with prominent or authorial narrator;
- 1st person narration;
- 3rd person narration from the point of view of a character;
- 3rd person narration without comment or inside views ("the dramatic method").

Lubbock also wants people to differentiate between telling int he voice of the authorial narrator and telling in the voices of the characters, suggesting that mimesis is a form of diegesis, rather than opposed to it.

The lecturer went on to discuss the different points of view. 1st person is potentially the most intimate point of view, using 'I' as the narrator and as a character at the same time. However, the 'I' narrator should not be confused with the writer themselves, unless it's an autobiographical piece. Within the 1st person, the 'I' narrator can call another character 'you' and speak of 'you' and 'I' as 'we'. Does this constitute a separate point of view? It is debatable. This use of 'you' and 'we' in 1st person is common in song lyrics. The 2nd person also uses 'you' and can use 'we', but more than in 1st person. The reader seems to be addressed by the writer and this implicates the reader, forcing them to participate in the text. However, this can be risky, because the reader might not want to be so directly involved with the text. The 3rd person uses 'he'/'she'/'it' and there is an absence of 'I' except in dialogue. This can distance us from the characters to an extent, and can allow for an omniscient narrator who can see deeply into the thoughts of many different characters.

Our lecturer advised us to take note of what point of view we use in our writing and what point of view is being used in the things we read. An interesting exercise could be to re-write a passage from a book in a different point of view and see how it turns out.

Which point of view do you normally write in? Which point of view are you reading at the moment? 

- Bonnee.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing Craft: Audience and Voice

Getting out of bed this morning was hard for a reason... 
Anybody else just love Game of Thrones?

Our lecturer has decided to push all the weeks back one seeing as we missed out on the lecture last week and had an extra week at the end of the semester. So while it is the 8th week of classes, today we completed week 7's lecture and tutorial.

Who: Audience and Voice

Readings for week 7 were Rich chocolate cake รก la Irvine Welsh by Mark Crick (pages 20-28), Everything is illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (pages 1-7), Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (pages 1, 3-5, 7, 9-25) and The white tiger by Aravind Adiga (pages 3-42).

When we talk about 'voice' in writing, we're talking about that thing about a piece that makes it seem alive; the thing that seduces us to keep reading and/or writing it. Having a good voice is what will stop the reader from putting the book down and never giving it a second glance, and it is what stops the writer from getting bored of a project they've started.

The difference between voice and style can be hard to distinguish, mostly because they reflect on and feed off each other. My lecturer believes that style can be imitated, but voice can not. My tutorial group discussed the difference after the lecture and my tutor asked us to consider a few things: Does the writer's style change or stay the same over different pieces they write? Does each separate piece have it's own unique voice? Is it possible for writer's to have more than one voice? My tutor agreed that style could be mimicked, but questioned whether or not the same could be said for voice. Personally, I think that each piece has a unique voice that can't be replicated, and that writers might have multiple styles and voices.

An audience for writers are their readers, but each writer has a different set of readers or person they are aiming to please when they write. With a little bit of practice, it can become quite easy to automatically adjust our language or our 'voice' for whoever our readers are. After all, audience has a crucial effect on how we write. While we all automatically write for an audience, it is not always clear in the first instance who that audience is. Although some writers are super-ultra-organized and plan out everything about their next project to a T, many do not and when the urge to start writing strikes, a lot of people will go for it without considering who we are writing for.

Who do you write for? 

We brainstormed some possible answers in the lecture and tutorial. While the obvious answers of "teenagers", "young adults", "my best friend", "my mother" or "myself" came up, there were some more interesting contributions. Our lecturer suggested that sometimes we write for someone who once strongly praised us or someone who once harshly criticized us. Or in the case of 'anxiety of influence', some of us feel that we are writing for the whole of literary history, with the weight of all the other awesome authors who came before us resting on our shoulders as they peer at the pages before us and tut quietly under their breaths, shaking their heads... or whispering encouragement to us from beyond the grave. They can't ALL be mean and filled with superiority.

The final thing we touched on in the lecture was 'Audience as the addressee of your narrative'; a technique in which we mobilize the notion of an audience to produce a particular effect in terms of voice, by letting your narrator talk to/write to/complain to/fantasize to etc... a particular person.

My tutor left us on a note of caution: Don't try to please EVERYBODY when you write. You can't write for EVERYBODY at the same time. Pick your age group, gender, or whatever demographic makes up your target audience and aim to please them before anybody else. Otherwise you'll just turn into a hopeless too-far-stretched mess trying to please too many people and most likely not succeeding.

Who do you write for? Do you think you have a style of your own yet, or are you still finding it? Do you think each of your individual pieces of writing has its own voice? 

- Bonnee.

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