class_topics: February 2008 Archives

Michael Sims will discuss steps towards becoming a freelance writer.

Update, 01 Mar: Stephanie Wytovich wrote up an excellent summary of the event.
Accomplished writers work hard to make their end product look as if they tossed it off effortlessly. While everyone knows the joyful rush of productivity that happens when you feel "inspired," in reality, good writing -- like almost everything else of value -- requires hard work.

You might start by creating a character, based on someone you saw in a train station years ago, or totally out of your own imagination. What one incident in that person's life is worth writing about?

Or, you might start with a genre (fantasy, horror, romance) and try to look for an unusual combination of elements (I once suggested "The Godfather, but with mermaids," which actually makes sense if you've read Hans Christian Andersen's original "The Little Mermaid").

You might start with a line of dialog, or a bit of action.  But however you start, once you've begun to identify bits and pieces of the world where your story will take place, the next step is to plan.

Usually I only want you to submit electronic copies of your work. This time I want you to bring three printouts to class, for a group activity.

When we write in order to vent, or work something out in our heads, we are writing for ourselves. All we have to do is mention someone's name, and all the emotions associated with that name come flooding into our consciousness.

There is great value in expressing your feelings through writing; however, the writing strategies that lead to good "venting" (you write whenever the mood strikes you, you churn out words and paragraphs, and then once the emotion passes, you stop) rarely lead to good fiction (or poetry, or personal essays).

It's hard to maintain a clear idea of how your words are going to affect your reader, when you are still caught up in the emotions of the moment you are trying to capture. I don't mean to say that you shouldn't write about what makes you passionate, but rather that the real power of emotive writing is not that it accurately expresses the author's feelings, but that it generates feelings in the reader. (Whether those words "capture" your own feelings is largely irrelevant.)

William Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility."  That definition usefully describes the delicate process of choosing specific incidents to "show" a truth that is important to our developing understanding of the story, without using announcements and labels to "tell" the reader the significance of those incidents.

When we encounter a work of fiction in which the protagonist seems to be pouring out his or her emotions in a great, unrehearsed gush, we see only the end result of hours (or months) of planning, and multiple (or scores) of revisions.

The author has worked hard to make it look like the writing is unplanned.

The writer will carefully conceal important details ("She loves him but can't admit it" or "The suspect the detective is pursuing is really the detective's own brother") that become clear only as the story progresses (maybe, for a short story, only becoming clear in the final line). 

There are, of course, forms of fiction that don't involve great gushes of emotions. For example, detective stories emphasize puzzles and character study, while adventure stories emphasize discovery and setting. 

You can write an inspiring story or a funny one. Don't feel that it's necessary to create an angsty emo teen who rebels against the world. The main thing to do is plan.

Introduction to online journals (weblogs).

I will walk you through the steps during class.

  1. Intro to the SHU blogosphere
  2. Setting up your personal blog
  3. Creating an entry
  4. Completing the RRRR sequence for each assigned reading

If you would like a review, here are detailed instructions (including a link to an audio/video version).

Recent Comments

Ally Hall on Truss 1: "It's tough being a stickler for punctuation these
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