Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
Readings: Point of view and voice: 'where I'm calling from' by Jack Hodgins, If on a winter's night a traveler by I Calvino, Girl by Jamacia Kincaid, Man-man by VS Naipaul, True history of the Kelly gang by Peter Carey, White Noise by D DeLillo, and Cold snap by Cate Kennedy.
My classes really like talking about point of view. In my fiction class in particular, we were asked to consider how different points of view limit or enhance a story. When you read or writing something, do you ever sit back and think, would this work better in a different point of view? Personally, I was to rewrite my first novel EVERGREEN in first person, as I think it would do better that way than the way it is currently in third person, though third person is my preference. This is something I love about drafting and redrafting a piece of work: just because you started in a certain point of view doesn't mean you're committed to it. When you're redrafting something, you have the perfect opportunity to go back and change things like the point of view you're using. One thing that was said during class discussion resonated with me a bit and I had one of those pleasantly surprised 'huh' moments: third person is just an 'I' that never steps out from behind a chosen mask. This can work with both limited third person, where the 'I'-mask is the character the narration is focused around, and in omniscient third person, where the 'I'-mask would be a god-like voice.
Here, I want to make a note on the distinction between two different things people mean when they say 'point of view'. There is point of view as in narration style (first person, third person, etc, as I have been talking about above and last week) and there is point of view as in focalisation, or the lens or character through which the story is told.
Poetry: Making it Strange
Readings: Project Papers edited transcript of Ted Berrigan's Sonnet Workshop, The Sonnets: I by Ted Berrigan, The Sonnets: III by Ted Berrigan, Sonnet 1 by William Shakespeare.
This was an interesting class. The roll-call question was What would your gnome name be? We spent a good hour talking about gnomes. We wrote poems about gnomes. Somehow, talking about gnomes led to talking about sonnets. The form of sonnets, like many other forms of art, has been changed and adapted over time. Petrarch wrote them in two stanzas, of eight lines and then six lines. When later Shakespeare got a hold of the art form, he reformatted it to four stanzas: four lines in the first three stanzas and two lines in the final stanza. Sonnets are all about the pronouns - the 'you' and the 'I' and the 'we' and the 'they' - and the abstract phrases that describe the dynamic relationship between two things. They also, traditionally, follow the rhythm of iambic pentameter, which is using five couplings of soft and hard sounds per line. Read one of the above sonnets, or another traditionally formatted sonnet, and see how each line reads approximately soft/hard soft/hard soft/hard soft/hard soft/hard like a heartbeat.
We ended the class with a brief discussion of dada art, we can be defined as anti-art, pranks against art, or conceptual art, depending on your stance on the matter (or the artistic merrit of the individual piece, if you're like me). Basically, you find something, take it out of its original context and put it into a new context and call it art.
Literature For Children and Young Adults
Reading: Into the Forest by Anthony Browne
This week we were looking at the postmodern fairytale picture book. Having picture story books isn't important to help kids understand what they're reading. The visual representations of the words on the page are rarely limited to their literal meaning, and children are learning to understand image representation and analysis. There can also be a cultural impact on the illustrations. Picture books are transmedia texts, which use more than one medium. In class we analyse how the words and pictures affect each others meaning and the reader's interpretation. We can analyse picture story books with a rage of tools, including the spread (pages), protagonist, frame and layout, colour, shape and lines, style and medium, and composition.
We use postmodern techniques to retell fairy tales because we have to reassess the values of the original story for a modern audience. Sometimes, this also means we have to modify the meaning of the story. One of the postmodern techniques often used is intertextuality: when the text refers to other texts and the reference plus the relationship between the two texts add meaning to the new text. Parody is another technique, which can include intertextuality. The Shrek movies are a great example of both parody and intertextuality. Another technique sometimes used is metafiction, where the text openly comments on its own fictional status and/or the character are aware that they are not real.
Postmodern texts draw attention to how stories are created and told, how narrative fictions are constructed out of other texts, how stories encode and transmit cultural values, assumptions and ideologies, and the relationship between fiction and reality.
Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Readings: Taking Shape by S Perl and M Schwartz, Joe Cinque's consolation: a true story of death, grief and the law by H Garner, and Subterranean Gothic by P Theroux.
We were talking about narrative structure this week. There are a few different ways in which we can order the stories we tell. This includes forms such as chronological, segmented, framed, compare and construct, multiple perspectives, episodic, Q&A, epistolary, multigenre, and inverted pyramid.
Every story needs a shape, and often that shape isn't clear when we start out writing our first draft. Sometimes it doesn't start to form at all until we are at the stage of redrafting. That is another thing I find beautiful about writing and drafting and redrafting; the shape, or lack thereof, is something you can go back and change. Other times, the structure of the piece you want to write will precede the story and content itself. If you are having trouble finding a shape after you have completed a first draft, some of the things you can do is go through and star your favourite parts and see if you can find a connection between them, look for the narrative arc of the overall piece, and look beyond that first line in case there is a better place for you to start. Something creative nonfiction pieces need is scene, summary and reflection. Checking to see if you tick all these boxes can also help you find the shape. Avoid second-hand telling, ground your writing in the particulars, don't be superfluous, bring something new to the story. Don't be afraid to go on riffs and tangent as long as you bring it back to the point of the story (and don't part from the main story for so long that the reader forgets).
Alright my petals, my Sunday-night brain is kicking in after a long weekend of doing-too-much-but-not-really-all-that-much. Visiting the hometown just zaps the energy from me and my assignments and the deadline for submissions to the next edition of Wordly Magazine (of which I am now a member of the production team) are looming. I am going to go and cram some readings for tomorrow mornings classes and then try to be in bed before midnight.
Have you learned anything writerly this week that you would like to share?