Yes, I know it's actually Friday (or if you're not in the same timezone as Australia, it's probably even still Thursday!) but I'm not going to have a chance to write this up on Saturday, so I'm sending it in early. I've just had a great second week of uni and I can't believe how quickly time is flying by. Here are the things I want to share with you from my classes this week:
Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
Readings: 'It's Genre. Not that there's anything wrong with it!!' by A Krystal, 'The Circular Ruins' by JL Borges, 'The Second Bakery Attack' by Haruki Murakami, 'Lifelike and Josephine' by P Haines, and 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: A Memoir Based on a True Story' by D Eggers.
This week was focused on the genre fiction vs literary fiction debate, which I personally thing is a silly thing to argue about. Both styles have their pros and cons and if they are executed right, are capable of being just as good as each other. The article we read by A Krystal was offensive to many of the genre-writers in the room and most if not all of us disagreed with what was being said. However, the aim of our class is to create something that falls under the heading of literary fiction. That's not to say we cannot write in a genre if we are writing literary fiction. It just means we have to write something that isn't commercial fiction, as commercial fiction seems to be the more general way of referring to all of the genre categories. The other readings were used as examples of literary fiction and helped us to define the term. A lot of people in the class were only hearing of literary fiction for the first time.
The difference between genre/commercial fiction and literary fiction seems to be that, generally speaking, commercial fiction follows a familiar story-line and the reader knows what to expect from the book, the language and style is simple and straightforward and readers consider it fun, whereas literary fiction supposedly carries deeper and more complex messages, doesn't follow cliche story-lines or use the expected tropes, and the reader starts the book without really knowing what to expect, but the content resonates with real life. Personally, I think this is all bogus. There is genre fiction that has fancy language and complex issues and which resonates with us afterwards, and there is literary fiction that falls flat of that expectation of sweeping us off our feet. But I will share with you a quote from the article by Krystal: "One brings us fun or frightening gifts, the other requires - and repays - observance." What do you think of this?
Poetry: Making it Strange
Readings: 'Vidal in Furs: Lyric Poetry, Narrative, and Masoch(ism)' by Simon Pender, 'After Peire, Vidal, & Myself' by Ted Berrigan, and 'From Dawn to Dawn: Troubadour Poetry' translated by A.S. Kline.
This week's roll-call question was 'What is the worst threat you ever got', to which I did not have a particularly impressive answer ("I'll tell your mother!" back in primary school?). Anyway, this week's class was about the Troubadours who were popular back in the 11th-12th Centuries in southern France and parts of Spain and Italy. They are supposedly the inventors of love in Western songs. They created the love song (Canso), songs that comment on public things and gossip (Sir Ventes), and songs that were arguments between two Troubadours (Tenso). It was considered an aristocratic pursuit at the time. These people would write songs and poems and learn how to play instruments and then go around to royal courts to perform. The male Troubadours would usually pick a woman from the audience (usually the hostess) and sing as if he was singing to her. The point is that they were seducing someone publicly with their words and their instruments. The Troubadours were replaced by their impersonators the Jongleves, who created the Vido (a short bio of the original creator of the song) and the Razo (an account of the song's composition).
Later in the class, we talked about people who make themselves out of fictions or develop their own madness, Quixotic (kee-oh-tee). And we talked about how when we are writing, we have to remember where we come from (though we don't necessarily have to write about ourselves).
Literature for Children and Young Adults
Readings: 'Little Red Riding Hood' by Charles Perrault, 'Little Red Cap' by the Brothers Grimm, and 'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf' by Roald Dahl.
If you didn't guess by the reading list, this week we were studying fairy tales, specifically Little Red Riding Hood. The thing about fairy tales is that they were not originally told for children, and what we know as 'fairy tales' today are merely adaptions of stories that were first made for adults. The point of us looking at all three different versions of Little Red Riding Hood listed above was to see how children, specifically little girls, were portrayed over the different periods of time when each of these stories were written.
Before we nosedived into the analysis of these three LRRH stories, we took a look at the conventions of a fairy tale. Settings: forest, castle, cottage, village, etc. Characters: peasants and royalty, magical/mythical folk, talking animals, etc. Iconography: glass slipper, spinning wheel, red apple, red hooded cloak, etc. Narrative elements: minimal detail, flat characters, repetitions (in 3s), happy endings (in the children adaptions) etc. Then of course we have the element of story: a full sequence of events in 'natural' order and duration, and plot: a pattern of events/situations arranged to emphasise (cause and effect) relationships and to evoke certain emotions. We took a look at these conventions in relation to LRRH. The setting inside the forest on her way to grandma's house is a metaphor for danger and we can easily place Red, Grandma, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Huntsman into the six character roles: Giver/receiver, subject/object, and helper/opponent. In fairy tales, there is binary opposition, where everything is set in pairs of opposite and there is no overlapping between good and evil. We also talked about sexism and gender roles in texts like fairy tale; how the women always need saving by men (Little Red and Grandma), and there are two types of men, the ones who save you (the Huntsman) and the ones you need saving from (the Big Bad Wolf). Little Red becomes less helpless (and more violent) in the more recently written versions of the story.
Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Readings: 'Putting Yourself on the Line: Autobiography, Memoir, and Personal Essay' by P Gerard, 'The Art of the Dumb Question' by H Garner, 'Introduction' by I Glass, and 'Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self' by A Walker.
This week was focused on writing about the self. The point of personal essays and memoirs and autobiographies is that we are trying to make what interests us resonate with others. In the words of Philip Gerard, "The best personal essays are usually about the self in relation to a world beyond the self."
When we analysed the readings above, we did so with Huxley's three poles in mind. Huxley's three poles are three different ways of writing: personal and autobiographical; objective, factual, concrete-particular; and abstract-universal. Our goal when we are writing, especially a creative nonfiction personal essay, is to make the transitions between these three types of writing seamless so that it doesn't distract the reader.
That concludes classes for this week. What are your thoughts on the genre vs literary fiction debate? Which class are you most interested in? Have you got any lessons of your own to share?