Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
Readings: Searching for the Secret River by K Grenville, Writing Short Stories by F O'Connor, The Writing Experiment by H Smith, Explorations in Creative Writing by K Brophy, How Fiction Works by J Wood, An Ocurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by A Bierce, The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow by G Garcia Marquez, and Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice by N Le.
Admittedly, I had a busy weekend and didn't quite get a chance to read any of these (except that I'd read the last one a few years ago, which I loved). We discussed the circumstances we need in order to do our best writing, and how the requirements might change depending on what we are writing. For example, I hate working in silence, but I seem to generally work best when there is instrumental music in the background without lyrics. When I'm trying to concentrate, I'll put on a playlist of Yiruma or the musical scores of movies. Han Zimmer is a favourite on my Spotify account. However, waiting for ideal circumstance for writing is not going to help you make progress. Sometimes, you just have to get those ideas down as they come to you, even when you're in the middle of something. Just jot them down somewhere - in your smartphone, on a serviette, along your wrist, up your leg - because if you don't, there's such a chance of forgetting by the time the ideal circumstances come around. And that's part of the beauty of first drafts. You can get away with it being rough and imperfect. Starting out tends to be the hardest part, but once you've got something down on the page, you can work with it from there. Do not wait for time to write. Find time. Make time. Write.
We talked a lot about short stories in class this week and noted that one of the rookie mistakes short story writers make is that they exclude details completely and think they're simply being subtle, but really, a little bit of what you're trying to imply needs to be in there in order for you to be subtle, otherwise how else is the reader to know it's supposed to be there? Short stories are about writing dramatic actions and emotions and too often, the author is hung up on wanting to write about problems, not people, and about abstract concepts rather than anything concrete, or they are caught up in the idea of being a writer, that they forget they actually need to be telling a story. So remember to keep the story in mind when you're writing, otherwise you're just rambling.
Poetry: Making it Strange
Readings: A Ballad - After Villon by Tom Scott, Testimony, Theory, Testament: On Translating Francois Villon by Justin Clemens, Ballad of the Dead Ladies by Francois Villon, translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Our question when we did the roll-call was: If you were a criminal, what would you cal yourself and what would be your specialty?
We talked about Francois de Mentcorbier and Georges Villon, and ended up discussing a lot about medieval France. This is where the creation of la petite testament, la grande testament, and the ballad occurred. Our teacher also taught us the phrase memento mori: Remember that you will die.
We read through the readings in class and talked about them and we noted that every culture seems to need demons, and every culture recreates them in one way or another. It's almost like they're trying to breed fear.
Literature for Children and Young Adults
Readings: Jack and the Beanstalk by Joseph Jacobs, Jack and the Beanstalks by Edwin Hartland, and Jack and the Beanstalk by Andrew Lang.
This week focused on narrative theory and ideology and we applied what we learned to the three different version of Jack and the Beanstalk we read. This is something I feel my classes have covered a hundred times over, but I still found it useful. Reader positioning is the way the text influences the reader to adopt particular views of the characters and actions in the story. Then we talked about who the story is told to and who is listening: The real reader vs the implied reader/target audience vs who the narrator appears to be talking to within the story/the narratee. Then we discussed the question, who speaks? We talked about the real author vs the implied author (inferred by the reader from the text) vs the narrator.
This led to a discussion about the different types of narrators. First person, as a participant or as an observer; third person, omniscient vs limited. We talked about intrusive/overt and un-intrusive/covert narrators, who either have a presence or character in the story, at least to a degree, or are identified as no more than a voice telling the story. We also discussed how to distinguish between having a reliable or an unreliable narrator: are they naive, ignorant, bias, or of dubious moral character? Can they be trusted, and how much can they be trusted? We talked about focalisation, often called point of view, which is the lens through which we see the story.
Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Readings: Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character by P Lopate, Sophie by JM Coetzee, A Farewell to Beirut by R Fisk, and Mother Tongue by A Tan.
It's always interesting to see how the subjects covered in classes match up each week. We talked about narrative point of view in this class. In a personal essay, the 'I' must form a character as well as a narrator. This is done by selecting the aspects of yourself relevant to the story being told and applying them to the 'I' character. This includes the way we speak. Have you ever noticed that you change the way you speak according to who is around you? According to Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, we speak in genres. When writing a personal essay, we need to pick which genre our 'I' character should speak in, otherwise consistency is lost. In writing ourselves as an 'I' character, we also have to be mindful of showing our own character development, which means admitting to our own personal flaws and imperfections and putting them into words.
What did you learn about writing this week?