Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Stories Are Mine, and Yours Are Yours

"So what are the things you want me to change in my story," my Intro to Fiction Writing student asked today in my office.

"Nothing," I said.

"Huh?" she said.

"I don't WANT you to change anything. It's not my story."

"Don't you like it? Then why don't I have an A on it yet?"

"Because your grade on it is based upon YOUR understanding of what's not quite working craft-wise and your ability to try and work with it. There are several things I like about it, like ____, _____, and ______. But I want to see YOU thinking about it and what can make it better. I brought up ____, _____, and _____ during workshop."

"So, I need to change THOSE things?" she asked.

"Well, I'd start with the things YOU see that need work--if they're coming from my feedback, sure."

"I understand," she said, "that I need to be able to understand story structure myself, but do you know you are EXASPERATING?"

"I know," I said, "but it's YOUR story."

She laughed. "Can I grade myself?"

"That would be so much easier for me. I love helping and suggesting. I HATE grading."


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Writing UNIQUE Short Stories

Got a note that I don't post short story writing tips enough. I only have so many! :) Here's something that has been VERY appropriate for my current "Intro to Fiction Writing" class, though:

Newer writers, and intermediate writers, too . . . if you follow my suggestion for not plotting a story in advance but starting with a character, setting, and situation/object instead and then seeing where it leads you, consider this: quite often, the first/rough draft of your story might not be the right story, but it has most likely given you an interesting character before you likely resort to using a plot that seems familiar to you. The wheels-turning, trying-to-get-somewhere process is important. Creating a character who's interesting is great!

This, the rough draft, is the best draft for a workshop, or a writer's group, or initial readers (but not final clean-up readers). As is happening with my class workshops this semester, group members/readers are finding things about the character that intrigue them, and discussion revolves around that, and around the fact that the plot the authors have tried to force upon the character is forced, clich├ęd, distracting, etc.

Often, if you workshop drafts you feel are more "polished," you're more resistant to big changes that could make a decent story great, and unique (you can tell unique is an important word for me with stories).

So, since it's a first draft, authors are more open to making big changes to the story: new plot, POV, adding deleting scenes, etc. It's a great way to find discussion about how, hey, this character is unique, this plot is not, so how can this POV character lead us to a more unique experience? What does he/she want? What is impeding their progress? How can this be confronted in a less-done-to-death way?

What is this character's real story? Not the plot you resorted to--no, where have they been and where are they going? The most important thing is character. There are rarely new basic plots. It's unique characters that force us to write old plots in new ways.

And death is mostly not an ending to a story. It's a way to end a story you don't know how to end. "And after all this crazy shit, he/she died." This only works if the death means something bigger.

Just some things to think about, as always--it ain't a How-to; there's not one.