Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Tale of Three Writers/Saturday Summary: Week 7

Greetings, all! It has been decided that my two best writerly friends and I are going to linky link to each other's blogs to tell an interwoven tale of three creative writing university students. So I would like you all to meet Holmes over at Life, the Universe and Everything According to a Writer, and Watson over at Not A Sexy Vampire. Whenever in the past you have heard me talk about my writerly friends, these guys are the people I'm talking about.

Once again, it is closing in on that time where all of my assignments are due in quick succession, but I think I'm ahead of where I need to be, so it isn't so bad. Here is a summary of what I learned in class this week, feel free to skip to your area of interest:

Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
Readings: Workshop pieces.

This week was again spent mostly workshopping, but I wanted to bring up something I saw in one of the pieces a classmate brought in. It was a brilliant piece, so well written in my opinion, and she's paid attention to small details that helped to really establish what the character was like. By this, I mean, she made intertextual references: for example, she named a book, quoted from Pulp Fiction and referred to a character from another text. The way she wove it into her story, although I didn't know much or anything about most of the references she made, still allowed me (and from the sounds of it the majority of the class) to enjoy reading it. It didn't distract me from what I was reading and instead I got this idea of a character who was intellectual and into pop-culture. But our teacher disagreed and said that more detail about these references had to be made, because a reader shouldn't have to go and look something up from outside of the text. Now, if our teacher had stated this as a suggestion rather than a you must then maybe I wouldn't have such a problem with it. I just think this is one example of the exception to the rule, but our teacher couldn't recognise that although the majority of the rest of the class did. Our teacher has this obsession with concrete details and writing about the mundane, and while I understand the importance, the way she stresses that these are RULES makes writing feel more like a science than an art.

Poetry: Making it Strange
Readings: Mina Loy Others and Feminist Manifesto.

The radical's radical was this week's topic in poetry. We spent a bit of time looking at Mina Loy, who wrote some very gritty stuff. In Others she basically breaks the convention of a love poem and turns writing about sex into something ugly and honest. I don't think the guy she was writing about would have been particularly flattered by some of her representations of him. I really enjoyed that reading, ha ha. Our teacher asked us to consider what part hatred plays in writing poetry. Two things that seem to be a large part of human nature (and should therefore be a part of poetry) are eros (erotic or romantic love) and thanatos (the death drive and the will to destruction). This led into a discussion about writing a manifesto, which, the understanding I got, is when you basically write a big rant about things you think are wrong with the world. Mina Loy wrote one about gender inequality. I'd probably write one about homophobia or racism or something like that.

Literature for Children and Young Adults
Readings: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Why Race, Class, and Gender Still Matter by Margaret Anderson and Patricia Collins.

This week we were focusing on identity, intersectionality, and the ethics of interpretation. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Sherman Alexie's fictionalised autobiography, which I absolutely loved, controversy and all. This book was used to analyse how race, class, and gender are represented in books and how they intersect both in text and in real life. We also looked a step further, to see how sexuality, ability/disability, and religion are represented and intersect with each other to represent life in books. Basically, we were looking to see whether or not the book broke the characters down into labels and focused on one aspect, or if they too all of the aspects of a character into consideration whilst writing to show the way they work together to create an individual. For example, the main character, Arnold, is a Spokane Indian, but he is also poor, but he is male, but he is straight, but he was born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside his skull so now he has a stutter and a lisp, but he's still athletic and intelligent. So we were looking at how these different aspects of him were represented and how they came together to create one person. I'm going to review this book later in the week.

Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Readings: The Boys of Beallsville by J Pilger, The Long Fall Into Steel by B Walker, and Consider the Lobster by DF Wallace.

This week we were talking about issues and stories and it it is important to find the shape of our story. Some people just want to write about relationships, or they just want to write about death, but they can't do that effectively unless they take an angle on the issue and make a story of it. You can write about relationships, or death, or poverty, or war, or happiness, but it needs to be within a context and a story. Something interesting that sometimes happens is that the structure of a story reflect or becomes meaning, and the form becomes content. I've noticed I do this subconsciously, and then someone points it out and I'll be like "Oh, yes, that was totally intentional" *shifty eyes*.

And that sums up what I learned this week. I hope something in there was useful to whoever is reading, and please check out my mates' blogs, because they're both very cool and unique people and writers.

Did you learn anything writerly this week? 
- Bonnee.


  1. Interesting stuff, Bonnee, thanks for sharing.

    So, you're professor seems to be saying, "If you're going to make those pop culture references, really detail them"--am I interpreting that correctly? I'm somewhat surprised she didn't take the approach that so many others take, namely, using pop culture references will date your work and make it so that no one understands it, thus, no one will want to read it (I do not believe this myself, but I would argue it can be overdone).

    I do agree with your professor in one area--I'm a big believer in small details. Those little tiny details are often what gives a piece a certain degree of authenticity. Again, though, you have to be careful not to bog down your text with too many.

    Finally, if you haven't seen Pulp Fiction, what are you waiting for? It's a classic! Off to check out your blogging buddies.

    1. That's the thing, the rest of the class (or at least those who participated in that particular discussion) thought she had given enough of those small details. And I absolutely agree that they're important, but I think it would have been bogged-down if the writer had gone out of their way to explain all of those pop culture references to us. Most of them were just titles that the reader could just go 'Okay, she read a book, cool, moving on' and if you just so happened to know something about that title then it was like a little extra bonus for you.

      I probably have seen the whole of Pulp Fiction, I just haven't seen it all in one sitting. It has definitely been on my to-do list for a while! Thanks Jeff! :)

  2. In my opinion, you're right about it being okay to give vague details like that. If I casually mention a legendary ax in a fantasy story you obviously can't look it up outside the text, but if I go into too much detail the story starts to sound juvenile. Look into the Pyramid of Abstraction. Also, allusions should, in most cases, stay in the background and act is flavoring, not substance. Most famous old short fiction I've read does so, sometimes to degrees in which you have to powerfully infer in order to understand the fact that there is an allusion being made at all.

    1. I didn't think of it as juvenile before, but I suppose you're right, now that I do think about it. I'll look into the Pyramid of Abstraction, it sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing, Patrick.

  3. Rules are strange beasts. Usually those who demand we follow them, look at them from their own point of view. Who made the rules in the first place? Are we better or worse for breaking those rules? In the end, most of society does what it wants to do. They fit the rules to their own purposes or beliefs. That is human nature.

    I tend to consider the source. Sometimes genius awaits our bold disregard of the mundane. Other times we acknowledge the genius of something far greater than our own understanding.

    1. I guess we fit the rules to suit us in most circumstances, not just writing. I think they should be considered and reconsidered in every instance, because certain rules may be more or less suitable depending on what is being written and what it's trying to achieve. Thanks for visiting, Peggy! :)

  4. With that first one, if the class got it, then I think she did it successful, even if the teacher didn't get it. It's also about writing to your target audience. If your target readers get it, that's what matters.

    1. Target audience, of course! I didn't even think of that, but you're absolutely right. Maybe it's saying something about target audience that the rest of the class got it but our teacher didn't. Hmm... :) Thanks for visiting, Alex, you've brought a whole new light to the table!

  5. Last week was packed with different and interesting topics. Writing is not science. In science you usually have one correct answer, while in writing every writer can approach the same topic differently. I guess your teacher wanted to establish a structure in writing. While in school, you have to follow her ways in order to get good grades, but once you finish university you can just follow the advice she gave that you agree with.
    After reading the blogs of your two friends, I can see why you want to write a rant about homophobia. Although, I don't relate to the topic of his recent postings, your friend James writes well.
    I have to read, at least a little, TRUE DIARY OF PART TIME INDIAN to understand what is all about.
    Didn't learn anything new about writing this week, except of your summary of your classes, especially the lesson from Fiction Writing: How much details and references should we put in a story ... not asking the reader to stop reading and check on the internet for details that we wrote about. Personally, I put too many details in my fiction and was told to cut them out ... to allow the story to flow smoothly. Have a great week.

    1. Yes, that's the only thing about a writing teacher who likes her rules too much: you have to follow them in your assignments to get the best mark you can.

      James is awesome, I don't relate to what he posts about a whole lot but it's nice to see him so excited about life. I guess as a close friend it's a little more relevant to me than most other people. Thanks for visiting them, Giora, and thanks for visiting me :) Have a nice day!

  6. Bonnee, I feel so much more educated now. Thanks for the precis of your week of learning. Sounds very exciting. I encourage intertextuality in my students' creative writing. It adds depth which I like. When done well, it's an awesome way to add another level to storywriting.

    Have a great week!


    1. Thanks Denise. I definitely enjoy seeing intertextuality done well in a piece of writing. Thank you for visiting! :)


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