Got stakes?

The thing that makes any story interesting and worth reading is conflict. Fortunately, it comes in various forms with the broadest categories being internal conflict and external conflict, growing from setting and characters in addition to the expected problems related to plot.

A tutorial created by Grace Sabella, a writer on DeviantArt, talks about some methods to developing conflict in a story. Something from the tutorial that has really stuck with me since I read it a while ago is the idea of creating the antagonist of a story before the protagonist so that they can complement each other well for the purposes of the story. This can also help to avoid flat villains/antagonists in longer works where many arcs have already been conceptualized and there is the danger that the hero will be much more fleshed out in contrast somewhere down the line. If possible, the hero can be tailored to have the ability to counter each of these conflicts before the writing even begins, and without possibly resorting to a deus ex machina at some point. That is just one of her points.

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Writing Exercise

What do you dream about at night?  Do you remember your dreams?

For one week, when you wake up in the morning, write down what you dreamed of the night before.  Put as much detail as you can into the entry of the dream.  Later, come back to the entries and see if you can fabricate a story around the dream, or maybe connect the dreams to create an even more enticing story.

SOC-socking you in the head?

Why is love lost such a popular topic? Love lost can be talked about. It can be said many things can be said. I could say love lost is the blight of a woman. But it’s not. What is it really? If you ask a star to speak with you all you’ll get is its light asking you why it took you so long to notice it. The star might be dead already. It could have already been it could have become a black hole. A black hole that is the most critical and significant of all. The one that bring an end to the universe, sucking and sucking and sucking everything into it. Because of a love lost?

You can be surprised by the kind of things you get out of writing in stream-of consciousness. Admittedly, it may not have been appealing in several of the places where you’ve seen it, but some instances can have proper punctuation and not make you want to turn your brain off. This article by Danielle Duvick provides some uses for stream-of-consciousness writing, including, interestingly, demystifying a character you have not quite figured out. It includes a practice excercise, and the author’s examples.

Discussion: “Black Box,” Jennifer Egan

Please use the following questions as a starting point for your response to the Jennifer Egan story “Black Box”. You don’t need to answer all of the questions, or even answer any of them in full, but please keep your response focused and relevant.

  • This story was initially published via Twitter (you can read a tweet-by-tweet archive of it here).  What sort of opportunities and constraints does such a format present? How do you see the influence of this form on the story?
  • What is defamiliarized in this story, and how? What tools does Egan use to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar here?

Discussion: “Sexy,” Jhumpa Lahiri

Please use the following questions as a starting point for your response to the Jhumpa Lahiri story “Sexy”. You don’t need to answer all of the questions, or even answer any of them in full, but please keep your response focused and relevant.

  • How do the stories of these two women, Miranda and Laxmi’s cousin, complement one another? What is Lahiri accomplishing by juxtaposing them in this way?
  • This is very much a story about stuff–eye cream, the silver dress–and places–like the Mapparium, and Rohin’s obsession with world capitals. What role do you see commodities playing in this story? What about locations, and geography?
  • What do you make of Rohin’s visit? What effect does his arrival have on this story?

Famous Authors and why they Suck

Yesterday afternoon a very close friend of mine (who for her sake will remain nameless) sent me a very interesting article that she thought I would find interesting. The article, which can be found here, is a criticism of Eric Arthur Blair or, as you probably know him by, George Orwell. Orwell is widely considered to be one of the most influential writers of all time, being placed second on The Times list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945,” yet Steven Poole, author of the article, accuses Orwell’s “assault on political euphemism” to be what he describes as “righteous but limited.” He also claims that what Orwell “perceives to be bad style [is] often outright ridiculous.” While the article continues from there to further criticize and blame Orwell, the theme of the article got me thinking. Are there any authors who are generally considered to be “incredible” and “revolutionary,” that you simply cannot stand? Personally, I find myself wishing I could stomach the writing style of J. R. R. Tolkien, as I absolutely love The Lord of the Rings. Obviously it’s not his concept that doesn’t agree with me, but his unnecessarily long-winded descriptions that seem to plague every other page of his writing. The only book of his I enjoyed was The Hobbit.

What I ask of those of you, who will take the time to read this, is to take a moment to think about some authors who are extremely well regarded, that you find yourself hating. What is it about their work do you not like? Why don’t you like it? More importantly, what does this dislike say about you as a writer? Has it influenced the way you’ve grown as a writer? I think this mental exercise could be extremely beneficial to all us, or at the very least, it’ll be very interesting.

Inspiration: A Unique and Extremely Personal Phenomenon

In an interview with The Guardian (found here), Kevin Barry, author of novels such as the Impac Dublin literary award winner City of Bohane, discusses a lot of interesting topics; though none of which peaked my interest as much as where he derived the inspiration to use famous musician John Lennon as the topic of his latest fiction novel, Beatlebone. Barry talks about how his “initial spark of inspiration is always place,” and how for this latest novel he was inspired to write about how “John Lennon is looking for his private island and can’t find it,” when he was “cycling around… Clew Bay” and “remembered that John Lennon owned one of the islands there.” At reading this I began to think about inspiration and everything that influences us when we, writers, are either writing or even just trying to come up with something to write about. In this interview Kevin Barry attributes any time he was inspired to his physical location at the time, but what really stuck out to me about the concept of inspiration is how extremely unique and different it is for every single person. Take myself for instance, being someone whose primary focus in their writing is in their dialogue, most of my inspiration comes from the daily conversations my friends and I have about utterly pointless things (such as if we can make this potato cannon fire beer cans), but I am willing to bet that every person in this class has a different answer. It also wouldn’t surprise me if some people couldn’t come up with an answer, because their inspiration comes from so many different aspects of their lives. I’m very curious as to what everyone thinks. Try discussing it here on the Blawg; and even if you don’t want to actually comment here try taking the time to at least think about it. Who knows what you’ll learn about yourself, and even your writing for that matter.

Multiple Narrators… How do we Feel?

During my habitual perusing of the information sharing website known as reddit, I stumbled across an interesting thread (found here) that was questioning the use of multiple narrators (i.e. multiple point of views) in books. This reddit user, who goes by the name of veryveryminty, shared that when reading a book they, more often then not, prefer it only to be written through the perspective of one character, because they find it “easier to sympathize with the main character if I can only see the same world they do.” After casually running over some of the other comments in this thread, I began thinking about this through a writer’s mindset. What are the benefits of choosing to use multiple perspectives? Why do some authors choose to do this, while others do not? Do some genres (yes, I am choosing to talk about genres even though I denounced them in my last post) benefit from the use of P.O.V.s more than others? Being someone who very rarely writes in the first person, I myself do not have any real experience using multiple points of view, but it is something that I am very curious about and will probably try writing like this in the future.

What I want to know is, similarly to the original reddit post, why all of you, my lovely readers and peers, choose to write in the perspectives that you do? And if you don’t know, or can’t think of any substantial reason, maybe try writing in a form that is less, for lack of a better word, “traditional.” Stray out of your comfort zones. See what happens, and talk about it here. You may be surprised by what happens.

“Genre Snobbery”: What we as Writers, and even Readers, Should Avoid

In this article found on Wired magazine’s website, author David Mitchell, whose body of work includes novels such as The Bone Clocks, Slade House, and most famously Cloud Atlas, discusses something very common that exists among writers, as well as just fans of literature, and the issues that he has with it. What Mitchell, is calling out is the notion that every piece of literary work written needs to fit neatly into one of the many mainstream genres, and that even if a piece does happen to fit into one of these genres (which he admits is perfectly okay), neither writers, nor readers for that matter, need to limit themselves to, or exclude themselves from, any of those genres as a result of personal bias. This “gene snobbery”, as the article’s author describes it, is a trend that is extremely prevalent in the consumers and producers of essentially all expressive mediums; whether it be fiction writing, music making, filmmaking, or even visual art, this trend exists among it’s user base. When someone decides they don’t like a genre, they are more than likely going to go out of their way to avoid the consumption of anything in that genre or, if said person is a writer, the production of that genre. An example: for arguments sake let’s say that I have decided that I do not like science fiction novels, because I just didn’t enjoy Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (I know, a completely ridiculous and unbelievable example, but bear with me); as a result of deciding I dislike all Science Fiction because I didn’t enjoy one book that exists within its incredibly expansive genre, I am excluding myself from the enjoyment of a countless number of fantastic literary works that I could very well enjoy, yet I will never get to experience them because, in this hypothetical scenario, I have made the rash decision to forsake anything connected to the broad category of “science fiction.” In the article, Mitchell refers to this trend of “cutting yourself off” in this way as a “bizarre act of self-mutilation,” and, in all honesty, I agree. By classifying our work into these suffocating little “genres,” we are binding both our readers and ourselves to a strict formula, or schematic, for how we produce consume different forms of artistic expression. Consequently, we as writers will never be able to grow and develop to our fullest potential, all because we simply won’t let ourselves. David Mitchell attempts to fight this by working to just “[write] the best books that he can,” and choosing not to worry about whether or not the book he is science fiction, a mystery, or any other generic genre. He simply writes the story in his head.

Now I’m not a hypocrite- or at least not in this specific situation- I admit that I am just as guilty of this as any of you who are actually taking the time to read this class blog may be, but after reading this rather short article I couldn’t help but really think about the concept of genres and how they influence both our writing (as in the final product) and our actual writing process. That being said, what I am going to start applying to my every day life, whether it be in my writing or even just my enjoyment of expressive media (such as what music I listen to), is the conscious effort to ignore any and all genre classifications. They are not important, and the most they will do is give me an inaccurate and overly generalized opinion of whatever it is I am reading/watching/listening to/writing/written/about to write. I challenge you, my extremely small audience, to do the same. The next time you sit down to write something, anything at all, throw away all notions you have, or have ever had about genres, and just write the piece in your head. Don’t limit yourselves to any “rules” or restrictions posed by one set genre. If you’re work is good, that’s all that will matters. If you want your piece to be about a time traveling crime solving robot named Sylvester Dorkathamon, who is stuck in Victorian England and also doesn’t know that he is a time traveling crime solving robot, then by all means do it. I’m sure it will be awesome. This goes for what we choose to consume as well, because nothing influences us more then the work of others. So if you don’t like mysteries, go read a mystery; and if you don’t like period pieces, go watch Pride and Prejudice; and if you don’t like heavy metal music… well then you’re fine because heavy metal music sucks (joke). Hopefully through the loss of what I am choosing to call “genre goggles,” we will all be able to flourish as writers, in ways that we would have never thought possible.