Monday, November 12, 2007

"Show Me the Story"

Yesterday I attended my first creative writing class: a workshop titled "Show Me the Story." I want to tell you all about it, but there's this nagging voice in the back of my head saying "show them." Well, too bad for that voice: I'm telling.

The workshop was at The Loft literary center in Open Book (which also houses the Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA), more on that later). There was a church service going on in the room above us, so the first hour was very distracted by songs, music, and the creaking of the floor as people danced and swayed.

I feel like I learned a lot about how what I already do is "right." I don't mean that there is only one way to write, but rather, that I already use a lot of the techniques we discussed. We talked about four techniques that can be used to "show" a story: Sensory detail, action, thought, and dialogue.

Sensory detail is the five senses. I'd already heard a lot about this, so I was glad we didn't spend too much time on it. In all honesty, I was worried that this would be the sum of the whole class.

Action, in short, meant verb choice. Use strong verbs that have the specific meaning you want for your sentence, paragraph, story. But watch out for too many verbs in a section that needs to be shorter.

Thought is thought: describing emotions, thoughts, imaginings. It can be used to show what is going on outside of a character through that character's own interpretations. I felt like this was one of the harder techniques for me to work with. So it will be one that I try to practice more.

Dialogue: people talking. It was really interesting to discuss how conflict can be expressed through dialogue. One way to show tension through dialogue that our teacher mentioned a few times was to "have the characters on two scripts." Example: Howard and Phillip are at a bar, Howard is trying to get Phillip to help him go through his late great uncle's things. To show that Phillip doesn't want to, without saying "no," you could have Phillip talk about all the different girls in the bar. I'm still a little weak when it comes to writing dialogue, but it was a fun challenge, so it's something I will enjoy practicing.

It was a great class and a big ego boost to discover that I've been doing some of these things already. I would definitely take another class there.

As for the MCBA... on Sunday during my class they were having a Book Arts Fair. It was great to stroll around the several tables, admiring all the hand bound books, hand made papers, prints, calligraphy, poetry, and other crafts that were on display. Oh and their store! It had all sorts of great papers, books, bookbinding tools, and other curiosities. I can't believe it took me 2 years to get there!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Excited for Sunday

I'm amazed at how quickly the week went by. Standing in front of three never-ending piles of paper, collating them, folding them, stuffing them into envelopes, over and over and over and over...

I thought this week would never end, and here it is: Thursday. Today is an easy day. It's almost Friday, and then it'll be the weekend. And that means

Creative Writing Course!

But I was thinking. I shouldn't expect this one class to be the magic cure-all for my writing woes. I need to have realistic expectations and goals. So what should they be? The class is titled "Show Me the Story," and purports to offer help for writers who which to apply the old adage "show don't tell" to their writing. But what do I want to take away from the class?

1. A general improvement and increase in my writing styles.
I want to be have a greater range of style in my writing. Even though this doesn't seem to be the topic of the course, I think that coming at my writing from a new direction will result in changes to how I approach writing. Did I just say "approach writing" in three different ways without clearly defining what I meant to say? No. It was twice.

2. A greater ability to describe people.
Right now I feel like I can describe places fairly well. I would really love to be able to better describe people. I wonder, though, if that is something that needs to come from being a better observer of people. It's true that I have a hard time placing names to faces. Maybe if I work on that it will also improve my ability to describe people.

3. More clearly defined emotions.
In a previous post I tried to explain how I have difficulty translating into words how certain places create certain emotions. I would love to develop my ability to show those emotions and make others feel them, or at least understand how I came to feel them.

Do those seem realistic and achievable? I think they do.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dark Days 2: The Evening

Thanks to DST ending, my morning walks to the bus are now well lit! It's great. I love it.

But now my evening walk home is very dark. Darker than the mornings were.

I kinda like it.

Unlike the morning, when I'm still sleepy and my mind has only mostly pulled itself out of the dream realm of slumber, I have energy and am excited about getting home. There are also more people out and about in the evening, which makes the walk less lonely. It's the lonely walk in the dark that made the mornings scary.

So... in conclusion: I like DST right now.

Algernon Blackwood

I really liked this opening line from Algernon Blackwood's The Insanity of Jones.

Adventures come to the adventurous, and mysterious things fall in the way of those who, with wonder and imagination, are on the watch for them; but the majority of people go past the doors that are half ajar, thinking them closed, and fail to notice the faint stirrings of the great curtain that hangs ever in the form of appearances between them and the world of causes behind.

I think I'm one of "those who, with wonder and imagination, are on the watch." I walk past a house in the dark of the evening see a window, high up in a lonely house, whose soft orange glow is suddenly extinguished when the curtains are drawn and I try to imagine what is going on behind the shades.

Even simple things like doors marked "Authorized Personnel" spark my curiosity and sense of adventure. As if by opening that door I'd stumble across some sort of mystery begging for me to solve it!