Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
Readings: Workshop pieces.
This week, and I'm expecting the following weeks to be much the same, was spent workshopping our classmates work for our assignment. For lack of anything else to report about, I'll tell you about the assignment. We have a fiction piece due at the end of the trimester, worth 50% of our overall mark for the class. The piece(s) has to be 2500 words, which is a nice number for word counts if you ask me. Last year, my creative assignments all fell around the 1500 word mark, and I know I was not alone in thinking we were expected to fit too much into those 1500 words. Now with an extra 1000 words to work with, I'm thinking the classes will see some final pieces that are much more filled-out and well-rounded than in last year's classes. I'm scheduled to workshop my own piece this coming Monday, so wish me luck!
Poetry: Making It Strange
Reading: My Last Duchess by Robert Browning.
This week we were looking at persona, irony, and satire in poetry. The poem set for the reading, My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, was a great example of these things. What's great about poetry as with any writing is that you can speak as anyone or anything. Of course, poetry allows for a little more unquestioned experimentation than other forms of writing normally do. The possibility of who you could speak as in the poem is limitless. An interesting note that came up in class discussion was that it's easy to write characters we don't like, because of the emotions they trigger within us. The irony of this is that a lot of people write poetry in an attempt to capture and immortalise something beautiful and living, something that's always disappearing.
Something else that can be included in poetry is pathos: a quality that evokes pity or sadness. I first learned this word when I was studying Drama in high school, as it was a technique we tried to use in our performances too. But pathos isn't something you can just insert when you write. You have to make it believable and real, give it life and ignite it so that it is actually felt rather than just represented.
Another relationship poetry has with other forms of literature is the ability to start in medias res or in the midst of the action, rather than always starting at the beginning.
Literature for Children and Young Adults
Reading: The Little Refugee by Anh Do and Suzanne Do.
This week we discussed the use of schemas and scripts in children's books. Schemas are knowledge structures, patterns and associations that we store in our memories. They are often culturally specific. For example, using the text we studied this week, the picture book The Little Refugee, we have the schemas of Vietnam, Australia, boat people, refugees, and multiculturalism, just to name a few. What do you think of when you hear any one of those words? Put simply, that's what a schema is.
Scripts in children's books are much easier to identify. This is the expected sequence of actions and events based on previous exposures to the script. For example, there is the conventional guy meets girl, falls in love, can't have the girl for whatever reason, commits some heroic act, gets the girl, and they all live happily ever after. For an Australian audience, a refugee script would usually follow the path of an illegal immigration by boat. A less conventional script in the stories we read would be when the characters legally* seek asylum. (*I have some very strong views on asylum seekers, refugees, boat people, and whatever other labels you want to stick on those poor souls, and the way the Australian government treats them, but I'm not here to argue about them. I'll wait and fire my shots in my writing.)
Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Readings: The Art of Personal Narrative by V Gornick, Who Stole the Soul of the Boy from Indiana? by P Conrad, and In the Giant Green Cathedral: Malcolm Knox on Tim Winton's Breath and surf writing by M Knox.
This week's topic was narrative experiment. This is when the story is not presented as a conventional piece of prose. We ask ourselves how we can complicate and enliven our work and remember that our work does not have to conform to a particular formula. The only thing our work does need is a strong and appropriate narrator. We have to identify what the situation is, what is important about that situation, and what aspects of ourselves will animate the piece by being put into the 'I' character.
I apologise if these notes weren't as thorough as they have been in previous weeks. I don't know if it's just me and my suddenly busier-than-usual schedule messing with my head, or if there was just a lot more practical work and less theory and notes taken this week than in previous weeks.
Did you learn anything writerly you would like to share this week?