Jun 16, 2014

Iowa: Week 1 writing comments

(This is really just for my own info so don't bother reading it)

My prof of one week, Hugh, has seen Isaac, Prevaricating, Parcel, Lying and To A Friend.

Some big comments about the pieces that easily come to mind include:

1) Isaac - The reader's interest was peaked at the part where Abraham comes in and his expression has changed, because the reader knows something Isaac doesn't. But for the rest of the time Isaac's just confused - "okay, he's confused, so what?". The tension is deflated; the dynamism is lost; the readers don't feel the need to participate in the piece anymore. Maybe Isaac could do something. Maybe Abraham could give him a choice - what would he do? Maybe Ishmael could try to take his place?

2) Prevaricating - Molly kind of deflates the whole thing. Maybe I don't need Molly at all. And the last bit at lunch break is probably too in-your-face. The readers get it without me having to say it. There should be more show, less tell.

3) Parcel - I probably didn't need so much room description stuff. (I feel that way too. But it was a scenery description exercise, so. Maybe I could make the descriptions more relevant / add more to the mystery.)

5) To A Friend: The B in the story, the person the narrator's writing to, doesn't really seem to know what he wants. He probably needs more of a personality - is he just passively taking whatever comes, does he want both? The narrator is also very passive, and you also don't get a sense of why she likes him - it just seems like a dumb crush or blind desperation, because what makes their friendship so special etc is not fleshed out.

Aside from the many very helpful comments he gave on each piece individually, I asked my prof what he thought I could work on in general. He felt that my narrators often lacked agency - while you could clearly see their interior processes, they often didn't do anything; they were rather passive. And often my pieces didn't move forward - there was no evolution of emotion or action. Hamid used the word "dynamic", which probably captures it best. My pieces aren't very dynamic. I usually have quite a bit of character development, but not much plot. Also I had to try and get my heart into my pieces more. I said that was funny, 'cos I usually "bleed on the page", and this week I just decided to do that less. He said yeah, but bleeding on the page doesn't always get you a story. Which is true.

Other interesting things I learnt included using colour to your advantage in your imagery - e.g. a red cooler box on a green field. And leaving some things out, including the most obvious things, because the reader wants to do some work too. You don't have to give it all to the reader. In other words, show, not tell.

Stuff that comes out of Hamid's mouth when he's annoyed that makes for good pointers:
"If you want to write a story you need to have something to say." - there has to be a solid point to writing your story. It should stir up something in people. If you're just going to write about a strand of hair in your soup and it doesn't have a real purpose to it, why make people spend the effort reading it?
"These stories don't have stakes."

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