Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Response #9: Jacket Copy



Thank you!


Monday, April 2, 2012

Response #8: Genre Fiction in Creative Writing Classes

I'm sorry that this posted a few days early. This blog post is for NEXT WEEK, APRIL 9-12.
The response for TODAY (APRIL 2 OR 3) is on the partial. THIS ONE.

First, read this blog post by a former student of mine, Sal Pane, who is also a teacher of creative writing.

Then, consider the following questions and statements:
  • The books we find and read as young people are generally commercial fiction, genre fiction. The only place to buy books in my hometown was at the grocery store, for example. I wasn't exposed to literary fiction much. I wrote about this here. I find it interesting that what probably brought you to the creative writing classroom is your love of genre fiction. And the first thing you learn is that the kind of book that brought you to us isn't acceptable in the classroom. Or most classrooms. 
  • You need to know this: if you want to get an MFA, you will have a very difficult time getting in if your writing sample is genre fiction. This is because most of the faculty (not all) who teach in writing programs don't write genre fiction. And remember, decisions about who gets in are made by a committee comprised of writing faculty, and the number one criteria is the writing sample. You don't just apply to an MFA program like you do to college. For example, the most competitive programs might receive 500-1000 applications for 8 spots. This isn't a bias being expressed by individual writing faculty. The governing body of this discipline, AWP, clearly says that the standard in creative writing programs is "work of publishable LITERARY quality." So: what I'm saying is that if your novel for this class is pretty much straight genre, and you want to pursue an MFA, you will have trouble getting in to most programs if you use this book as your writing sample. You can piss and moan about this, but it won't do much good. You have to decide: if you want to pursue a graduate education AND you want to be a genre writer, start thinking hard about this issue. Do you need an MFA in order to write the kind of book you want to write? Are you willing to write a different kind of book in order to get in and to graduate? 
  • What, other than marketing, is the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction? What genre fiction do you consider to be "LITERARY" and what genre fiction do you find not literary?  

Your 500-750-word response must refer to the Sal Pane post to demonstrate that you read it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Response #7: The Partial

Due before class April 2 (Monday class) or April 3 (T/R class)

Read this previous blog post about what a partial is.

By this Friday at 5 PM, you must have a fairly polished 25-50 page partial to give to your small group. This must be the opening to your book (unless we have made a different arrangement).

The partial should be formatted and presented as you would present a book manuscript to an editor. Go here to see a sample. This means it must be proofread, double spaced, have page numbers, a title, table of contents (if necessary), and any relevant front matter (such as a map or family tree).

This draft of your partial will be read by your small group and by me. You'll think about all the things we say and then go back in and revise the partial one more time for the final.

So, it's okay if the draft you distribute on April 6th isn't "done," but it should be "done enough" that someone can read it. It will be okay for you to include provisional scenes, thumbnail sketches of scenes ("Here there's going to be scene between the protagonist and her mother in an ice cream shop where they talk about birthcontrol while eating banana splits), and questions, ("I'm not sure if these statistics are accurate but will check on this later").

The typical workshop would get grumpy and complain about an incomplete story. But remember: YOUR SMALL GROUP IS NOT A WORKSHOP. IT'S A WRITING GROUP. It's intended to be supportive.

Read this to understand why a small group discussion of a novel in progress is different from a large group, all class workshop of a stand alone short story.

You will email it to the members of your group AND TO ME at cathydayteacher@gmail.com, and to Sarah Grubb at sarahrg23@gmail.com.

What group are you in?

Monday class

Tuesday/Thursday class

Warning: If you do not email me your partial by 5 PM on Friday April 6, I am under no obligation to read your partial, and you lose the opportunity to have a personal, one-on-one conference with me. You will also lose 50 points each day it's late to your group.

Remember, you also need to produce 2,250 NEW WORDS by April 6 for your weekly words.

Welcome to the wacky world of writing a novel.

Your topic for this week's response: generate 5-10 questions you want the people in your small group to answer about your partial. What kind of feedback are you looking for? How close are you to having your partial  ready for your group, and for me? What are your biggest worries? What do you feel confident about? How do you feel about sharing your partial when you are still in the process of writing the novel? (500-750 words)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Response #6: Endings

Due March 26 or 27.

By ending, I don't mean the last few pages, the denouement. By ending, I mean THE KNOCKOUT. The PAYOFF. The BIG MOMENT YOU'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR.

Qualities of a Satisfactory Novel Ending

  • The ending seems both inevitable and surprising at the same time. It doesn't "come out of nowhere." It isn't predictable. 
  • The ending is the result of the character's actions. The ending is not the result of something happening to the character, but rather the result of a deliberate choice.
  • The ending must actually end. Something finalizes, concludes, gets tied off. Even if the story will go on as a series, there still needs to be some sort of provisional ending. 
  • Something changes. Otherwise, your novel is just a bunch of scenes strung together. 
  • The ending is sufficiently complex and brings together a number of layers--consider for example the end of The Sweet Hereafter. Nicole's choice effectively concludes ALL the subplots of the book. 
  • The ending "matters," meaning that there was something at stake and now, something is irrevocably changed. 
  • It's emotionally or intellectually satisfying. 

Qualities of an Unsatisfactory Novel Ending
  • You cheat and everything ends happily ever after.
  • Or you gloss over some vital steps in order to "get to the end."
  • You bail on a subplot, plot layer, and/or plot thread and leave it dangling. You leave burning questions still burning. 
  • The story is too simple, not layered, and so the outcome doesn't resonate as fully for the reader, who thinks, "Eh..."
  • There's only an exterior change in circumstances for the character, not an internal change. Or vice versa. 
What you need to do

Go ahead and write (or write about) what you think is the most pivotal scene, or series of connected scenes, what you imagine will be the end of your novel--remembering, of course, that this can certainly change later.

Don't put your entire ending in this response, just a paragraph or a description of what will happen. Put the actual ending in your Weekly Words due Friday. For this response, respond to having written/thought through the ending. Consider these questions: 
  • Does the scene have a beginning, middle, and end? 
  • What do you imagine will be the scene immediately preceding this scene? 
  • What scene will immediately follow it? 
  • Why is this scene the most fundamental scene of your novel? 
  • Does it bring together the various plot layers and subplots of the novel? What will make it satisfying, do you think? 

Also consider these questions:
  • What do you like in an ending, generally? What don't you like? What--to you--constitutes a satisfactory ending or "pay off"? 
  • What are some of your favorite (and least favorite) endings and what made them good (or bad)? What can you learn from them? 
  • How do you feel about having thought through the ending? Does this feel wrong? Does this feel good? Some say you should never know the end, because this takes all the surprise out of writing. Others say it's impossible to write a novel and NOT know the end. What's your opinion?
Remember that your response must be about 500-750 words.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Response 5: Language

Due  before class March 19, MONDAY CLASS, or before class March 20 (TR CLASS)

The topic this week is Language. 

I started this semester by saying "Think scene, not sentence." In this class, I focus on macro issues, because I think that most creative writing classes focus on the micro over the macro. But this week, we get to talk about sentences. About language.

First, read this article on the way in which The Great Gatsby was re-written for younger readers.

Here's the original passage from Gatsby: 

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

In the rewrite, the editors turned those two paragraphs into this: Wind blew through the room until Tom closed the window.

Your assignment for this week is this to answer these four questions:

1.) How do you feel about this rewriting of Gatsby? Is the original excessively flowery and the revision better? Or do you feel differently? How do you feel about sentences, about language, as a fiction writer? To what degree does language matter to you? Do you prefer books that are lyrically challenging or not? How concerned are you as a writer with sentence-level beauty and clarity? Has this class and its focus on scene over sentence, on quantity over quality been easy for you or difficult? (250-750 words)

2.) Of all the books we've read so far (Connell, Henley, Perrotta, Bakopoulos, and Horrocks) how would you rank them if the criteria was "attention to language"? Most attentive to least attentive. 

3.) In each of the four Horrocks' stories, select one sentence that you find striking, beautiful, unique, etc. The BEST sentence in the story. Then rewrite it badly or too simply or awkwardly, etc. What is good about each of those sentences? Change it. Remove it. (So four sentences and four rewritings of those sentences.)

4.) What's one question you want to ask Horrocks when she visits our class next week? You can also read this great interview with her to learn more about her! She says she's working on a novel about Erik Satie. He composed this song, which you have heard, although you may not realize it. 

Enjoy In Print! https://www.facebook.com/events/157353087718886/ 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Response #3: Linking

The topic this week is Linking.

Have read:  Connell’s short story “Etiquette Lessons,” and "The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge," Henley’s Other Heartbreaks (3 linked stories), Maass Workbook exercises 15-17.

This week, the prompt is on our Private Blog. http://novelwritingspring12.blogspot.com/ 

Please go there to answer the prompt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Response #2: Your Writing Regimen and Process

Due Tuesday 1/18 1/17! before 2 PM. You don't need to answer all these questions. They are merely prompts to get you thinking. 250-750 words. 

I used a naked picture to get your attention. Not because I think you should write naked.

When do you write? What time of day (first thing in the morning or at the end of the day?), what days of the week (weekends only or weekends never?), what time of the year (during school but not during summer or vice versa?) How do you write? Pen and paper or word processor? Do you write with the internet on or off? With music? In a room with other people in it, or by yourself? Do you have a writing space that is all yours? Do you HAVE to be in that space to write, or can you get writing done in other places if need be? Describe the way that a particular piece of yours got written--the overall arc from beginning to "end," and also what a typical writing session consisted of. How do you feel before you write, while you're writing, after you write? Are there certain things that need to be in place or in order before you can write? Do you need an assignment in order to write? How do the people in your life feel about your writing? Are they supportive? If you write on a computer, can they tell the difference between when you are writing and when you are doing other things on your computer? Can you tell the difference between when you are writing and when you are doing other things on your computer? (Try writing on 750words.com a few times--it keeps track of how many times you become distracted and stop typing.) What kinds of things do you become distracted by? I smoked for 20 years, and when I got to a good stopping place in my writing or needed a break, I left the desk, smoked a cigarette, and came back. Now, my smoke break is the internet, except that the internet is never finished. What do you imagine is the writing process of a productive writer? One thing I hear a lot from students is this: "I'd like to devote more time to my writing, but I have a job and all these other classes." Well, that pretty much describes my life and the life of every writer I know. All but a few writers have day jobs. So the question becomes: how do you learn how to fit writing into an otherwise busy life? That is perhaps the most important thing you will learn this semester. As you think about drafting a novel, what do you imagine needs to change about your writing process and what needs to stay the same? What are your goals? List the concrete changes you plan to make, the "to-do" list for yourself regarding when you will write, how you will make the time, how you will keep yourself on track toward your weekly and overall goal. 

Here's what my students last year had to say about this subject.  

Here's my list of goals:
  • Start using 750words.com again. I was on a 70 day streak when one day I inexplicably forgot, and I haven't returned to it. I'm using it right now to type up this prompt for Process Blog #1. 
  • I write best first thing in the morning, before my brain gets tired. Must go to bed earlier and get up earlier so that I can sneak in some writing time before the busy part of my day begins. 
  • When I've written, I will share my 750words session on FB and create a post for Twitter using #amnoveling. This will make me feel accountable to the group. This aspect of sharing my progress--honestly--makes me feel a little uncomfortable, like I'm bragging, but I need to get over that. If feeling accountable helps me get the words written, and if it spurs other people to attend to their writing, good. If it makes someone feel guilty, that's not my problem. 
  • No internet allowed until I have written. If I start checking my email and reading FB and blogs, etc. first thing in the morning, the next thing you know, it's lunchtime. The internet isn't like a cigarette break or a newspaper break. It is a Borg, a hive mind, a rabbit hole you fall into. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Response #1: Favorite Novels

Due before our first class meeting (section 003 meets on Monday night at 6:30 PM, section 002 meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 PM, both in 292 RB.)

What are your five favorite novels of all time? No more than five. No less that five. Five. Genre doesn't matter. How old you were when you read them doesn't matter. But they must be "novels" in whatever way you define that term. Find them and stack them up in front of you. Make a list of all the things they have in common. Not why they are different. What they have in common. 

  • How were they written? How were they structured?
  • What about the lead characters captured you?
  • What were the lead characters trying to get or get away from? 
  • When and how did the novels kick into high gear? Or did they?
  • What was the main opposition to the Lead's objective?
  • How did the ending make you feel? Why did it work?
  • What else appealed to you? The setting? Theme? The "realness" of it? The lack of realness? 
  • What kind of reading experience did these books provide?  
Reply below! I'm looking for 250+ words. 

How do you start a novel? Look for pleats.

I'm busy working on the syllabus for my novel writing classes this semester. The first unit is on beginnings, getting started, finding the material for a novel. Why don't we talk about this more?

Sarah Salway offers a lot of answers to the question, 'How do you start a novel?' 

Since so many students have written stories, I'm going to do an exercise in which we take a short story and do as Julianna Baggott suggests here, "open up the pleats."

If you've got stories or one story that resonates with you and readers, you can take that story and look for pleats -- ways to open it up. There are natural constraints on stories -- size of the cast of characters, point of view (one incident -- four points of view? maybe a novel), time, geography, insight, back story. If you open one of these elements in a story, you might have a novel. 

I'm going to use a very short story--well, it's actually a poem. Robert Hass' "A Story About the Body."  The story is an incredible example of compression; what happens when you open up the potential pleats? Dramatize the days in which the composer and painter get to know each other and become attracted to one another? Incorporate the composer's backstory? Include the Japanese painter's point of view? What about her backstory? What if she lost her husband because he couldn't cope with her mastectomy? And she came to the artist's colony to recover, only to be rejected again by a young composer who rejects her? And is the bowl the end of the story? What if it's the hook, the last thing that happens in chapter 1? What could happen next?