Write what you know–or not

One oft-heard rule of fiction writing is “Write what you know.” Yet fiction is imaginative writing, speculative writing. Do you agree that writers should abide by this rule? In what sense do writers need to know or understand the experiences they write about? For instance, can an unmarried 22-year-old write convincingly about married 45-year-olds? Can a female write convincingly from the point of view of a male, or vice versa, or a white from the perspective of an African-American? Can someone who’s never been to, say, Australia, write a good story that’s set in Australia?

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Jaeger on Johnson

Hey, “Dundun” fans–Dr. Jaeger wrote a web post today about Jesus’ Son, the Denis Johnson collection that includes “Dundun.” Check it out at http://memoriousmag.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/big-loves-tyrone-jaeger-on-jesus-son/.

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Climax and epiphany

A dramatic climax occurs when externalized actions finally answer the main question posed by the plot at its surface level, resolving the suspense of the central conflict. (For instance, in “A Small, Good Thing”: does the boy who has been hit by the car survive?)  An epiphany, on the other hand, also resolves questions raised in the course of the story, but usually these are the deeper issues the story has uncovered. (Is our existence essentially solitary, or is there a possibility of meaningful connection?) Epiphany is usually internal–it’s a moment of recognition or insight that the protagonist experiences, which shows how he or she has changed. Sometimes the epiphany is voiced by the narrator rather than by a character.

Pick one of the stories from this semester’s reading. Does it have a dramatic climax, an epiphany, or both?  Discuss.


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Workshop thoughts

You’ve been through eight workshops in fiction class this fall. What factors make for the best workshop discussions? What are some trends in workshop to avoid?

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On Writing

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King (who may be Ian’s long-lost Yankee cousin) offers both advice and anecdotes from his life. Of the writing practices that he either advocates or models, what do you find most helpful?

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Ironic Antrim

Irony takes many forms:
  • Verbal irony is a disparity of expression and intention: when a speaker says one thing but means another, or when a literal meaning is contrary to its intended effect. An example of this is when someone says, “Nice weather,” when what they mean (probably conveyed by their tone) is the weather is terrible.
  • Dramatic irony is a disparity of awareness between actor and observer: when words and actions possess a significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not, for example when a character says to another “I’ll see you tomorrow!” when the audience (but not the character) knows that the character will die before morning.
  • Situational irony is the disparity of intention and result: when the result of an action is contrary to the desired or expected effect. Being “shot with one’s own gun” or “hoisted with one’s own petard” are popular formulations of the basic idea of situational irony.
  • Cosmic irony is disparity between human desires and fate, destiny, or  the harsh realities of the outside world. By some definitions, situational irony and cosmic irony are not irony at all.
Name one example of irony in “Another Manhattan.”

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Over fall break…

…you may notice that time passes at varying rates. Clocks and calendars show time ticking by at a steady pace, but in fact, at the beginning of the break time may dilate, giving the illusion that you have all the time in the world before classes resume. When you’re with your friends, doing something you enjoy, it gallops by. When your mother is repeating a story you’re not very interested in, it slows again to a sloth’s pace. How do the stories for next week’s reading achieve a similar distortion of time? Identify cycles, gaps, dilations, and leaps that transform a commuter train track of a timeline into a roller coaster. (Each responder needs to mention only one distortion of time from one story.)

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