“Encounter” Exercise

"Stumps of trees cut by the Donner Party in Summit Valley, Placer County" Grayscaled albumen print, half stereograph. (1866) via the Library of Congress

“Stumps of trees cut by the Donner Party in Summit Valley, Placer County” Grayscaled albumen print, half stereograph. (1866) via the Library of Congress

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
Genre: Fiction
Purpose: To explore Burroway’s concept of “Character as Image”; examine potential of non-verbal communication; and situate the reader to receive information along with a character
Readings: Chapters 4 (“Character”) and Gabriel García Márquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” in Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing

Two characters come upon one another in the middle of a forest. Something bad—but not melodramatic*—has happened to one character and that character needs help. When the first character tries to tell the second what’s wrong, it’s revealed that the two characters don’t speak the same language. (This could include sign language.)

Write a scene from the point of view of the second character (first person “I”) while the first character tries to communicate the problem using only gestures, drawing, or other non-verbal communication. Additionally:

  • the second character cannot know what the problem is before the first character reveals it in this scene;
  • the second character should notice details throughout the interaction that reveal more about the first character (i.e. clothing, appearance, possessions, etc.)
  • the second character may or may not—or even cannot—help.

*Challenge yourself to come up with a problem that doesn’t involve far-fetched plot lines, flat characters, and easy conclusions. This means it would be best to avoid killers, aliens, and monsters. Think about more ordinary but equally tension-filled situations like a farmer whose lost a bull, a teenager who has a flat tire but doesn’t know how to change it, a hunter who accidentally shot his buddy in the foot, etcetera.

Poem: . . . as Light Refracted Through Prisms

A freeway prof’s commuting rumination, post-teaching . . .

If a poem is a light, the poet is just one prism through which the poem refracts; each reader is another prism. If the poem’s working well, it will throw off light in all directions.

D-Kuru

By D-Kuru (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 at (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/at/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Joe had some water”: Intro to Creative Writing Discussion about Image, Specificity, Significance, and Precision

After talking about Janet Burroway’s Image chapter in Imaginative Writing, my class took our discussion to the white board to consider problems with translating experience and ideas in language, the fundamentals of significant detail, and the precision of language.

I asked them to consider all of the possible meanings for each of these sentences:

“Joe had some water.”
—He drank some water; he has water to drink; he had water for watering his plants, etc.

“Joe had a glass of water.”
—He drank the glass of water; he had a glass of water to drink, etc.

“Joe had a glass of water on the table.”
—He had water to drink on the table and he hadn’t finished drinking it.

We explored the slippery nature of the word “had” in all of these cases, and then we thought about how context could change the sentences. We considered the difference between “a glass of water” versus a “water glass,” how the second doesn’t necessarily mean that the glass contains water, rather it could designated as a glass for water. Additionally, having the read come to “glass” before “water” would help form the image for the reader as it provides the container before what’s contained inside it.

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Goodbye to All That

My Textual Analysis class is discussing two essays titled “Goodbye To All That,” the first, of course, by Joan Didion and the second, a response by Eula Biss. We’ll be considering literary influence and response.

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“Backwards Story a Telling” Exercise

Illustration from Fables for the Frivolous by Guy Wetmore Carryl, with illustrations by Peter Newell (1898)

Illustration from Fables for the Frivolous by Guy Wetmore Carryl, with illustrations by Peter Newell (1898)

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
Genre: Fiction
Purpose: To open up discussion about plot structure and significant details
Readings: Chapters 9 (“Fiction”) and 6 (“Story”) in Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing

  1. Watch a viral video without taking notes. (“Texting Guy Almost Runs Into Bear”: http://youtu.be/WYsAkjfXxzU)
  2. Write a summary of what happens in the video. (2 min.)
  3. Now write a scene from the point of view of the bear or the man. Try to tap into their thoughts and moment-by-moment perceptions. Include as many details as you can in 5 minutes. Here’s the hitch: you must tell the story in reverse chronological order! (Tell the story backwards!)
  4. Look at the inverted check mark diagram of pg. 173 in Burroway. Discuss how the check mark works for a chronological story compared to the story told in reverse. Where does the conflict fall in your scene? The crisis (climax)? Is there resolution? Were there any details you thought of telling the story backwards that you might not have thought of telling the story chronologically?

“One Story, Three Genres” Exercise

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
Genre: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry
Purpose: To consider how writers of three genres go about approaching similar subject matter; to introduce distinctions between the genres; and to introduce key drafting and revision considerations based on reading from Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing
Readings: Chapters 1 (“Invitation to the Writer”) and 7 (“Development and Revision”) in Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing

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  1. Pick a favorite nursery rhyme, myth, or religious tale that you know by heart. Write a brief summary of the story in 2 to 5 sentences.
  2. If you were writing this narrative as a short story, how would you change it? What elements would you include? How would the style change?
  3. If you were writing this narrative as a poem, how would you change it? What would be your first steps to writing the poem? What would you leave out? What would you add in?
  4. If you were using this narrative as a basis for nonfiction, how would you frame it? How can you approach this subject matter in that way?
  5. Free write for ten minutes and begin to convert your summary into either a short story, a poem, or personal essay.

Hybrid Assignment in Introductory Creative Writing Class

For my intro to creative writing class at William & Mary this semester, I’m asking students to write one hybrid work as their final workshop piece. Often I feel like these introductory classes set up limits for students, but I wonder if allowing them to see genre as something that’s a little more fluid will encourage continued reading across the genres, an understanding that writing techniques can be used across genres, and creativity with the execution of their ideas. They will be reading a few hybrid texts at the end of the semester, too. The hybrid assignment will also give us a chance to review what we’ve gone over about the three genres by forcing us to consider their respective challenges. I think it will also give students the opportunity to tackle issues they faced across multiple assignments. Say they struggled with point of view in their poetry and concrete details in their nonfiction, but the poems presented strong images and their nonfiction offered an unwavering first-person. Perhaps they’ll be able to double up on their strengths through a hybrid work.

Regardless of the success of their pieces, I hope that we can have a great discussion that will prepare them for debates about form and theory in upper-level, genre-specific courses. Additionally, I don’t want to have a situation where I say, “You’ll discuss these forms if you choose to continue taking creative writing courses.” I want to be able to answer these inevitable questions thoroughly, not offhandedly in a minute or so in the middle of a workshop. Besides, you never know which discussion might excite a student about writing. Maybe those slippery hybrid genres are what really interest some students and they might not know it until you offer it to them!