Through Abington Community Library

Welcome Again Writing Family                            September 9, 2020

  • Our initial class of Fall 2020 is in the books. Although we met as two classes: Creative Writing and Memoir/Nonfiction, I will be posting the notes for both classes here. Just think, you are getting double for your money, or time.

Creative Writing

Since this series of classes is on writing characters, we started class considering the difference between plot-driven writing and character-driven writing.

Characterdriven writing is focused on the characters and the internal change or internal conflict, more so than the events and situations that take place

  1. In character-driven writing, the reader will be thinking about the characters and their attitudes, personal evolution, and decisions, and how those, in turn, change the shape of what could happen and the story as a whole.
  2. Plots that are character-driven are commonly referred to as “literary fiction” because they feature characters comprised of multiple layers which become apparent as the story unfolds.
  3.  Think about any movie or television show or book that opens with a character you come to understand in a certain way. As the production or book progresses, your character faces challenges or opportunities that unveil a different person than the one you expected. Perhaps the person is overcome by the challenge, or he or she rises to the occasion and overcomes the challenge. This internal change of the character is an example of character-driven writing.

Plot-driven writing focuses one what is happening in the story and the external changes we see occurring in a story. Think about a mystery story, fantasy, or even romance novels as examples. The energy comes from the events occurring, not the people growing.

The entire story is about what happened and either how can you prevent something worse or how can you find the villain. You are following a trail of events or clues. Another way to understand plot-driven is to think about a roller-coaster ride with lots of ups and downs and turns. That might help you understand what happens in a plot-driven story. The emphasis is not on change in a person, but the series of events that culminate in the resolution of the tension.

I believe every writer should carry a small notebook in which to record anything curious that they hear or see on a given day. Think of these as story prompts you can use later.

I carry notebooks in my car, in my purse, and in a tote bag that I might want to grab when I am going someplace where I might be able to do more extensive writing.

After the presentation of new material, we went on to have the students read and discuss their work.

Assignment: write a piece about a character showing who he or she is by what they are doing and where you are placing them. This is about showing, not telling.  Then from what you have written, choose two pages to read in class.

Creative writing people, yes I am raising my voice, ever so mildly! You might find something useful in the following material as well.

Memoir and Nonfiction Writing

Boy: Tales of Childhood

First notice the book cover here. If you are writing memoir of some sort, you need to be reading such books. This book by Roald Dahl is a good place to start. I bought my copy used on Amazon, not a big investment, but worthwhile as an example of one way to write about your childhood.

Because this is the first fall class and because we anticipated some new students, we went back to the basics referring to “eight storytelling tips that I learned from The Memoir Project” by Nicole Bianchi and published online March 13, 2018.

  1. Remember, everyone has a story to tell. I suggested that every writer should carry a small notebook in which to record anything curious that they hear or see on a given day. Think of these as story prompts that you can use later. I carry notebooks in my car, in my purse, and in a tote bag that I might want to grab when I am going someplace where I might be able to do more extensive writing. (Yes, if you read the notes from the early class, you will know I am repeating this information, but take my word for it, it is worth repeating.
  2. Focus on telling your truth. Remember, several people can experience the same event, but they will experience and respond to it differently. Never devalue your experience. That event as YOU experienced it, your reality impacted you, even if you got it wrong in your memory. It was that memory as you experienced it that changed you. So never allow someone to diminish your truth.

We also talked about good ways to handle your expression of your truth. You could say

“Here’s how I see it.”

  “Here’s how I remember it.”

 “Here’s how it happened to me.”

“Here’s how I felt.”

All of these expressions give you the wiggle room you need when someone else might remember it or respond to it in a different way.

3. What is your book or story about? Let the story tell you after you have been at it for a while. For instance, you started writing stories about your childhood. After you have four or five written, look at them to determine what the tie or theme is.

Are they held together by the thread of experiences with a particular family member or place where you spent meaningful time? Are they about incidents that helped you grow?

I wrote something about my father, a man I did not like very well when I started the piece. By the time I had finished my research and writing, I realized the piece was more about reconciliation than anything else.

If you don’t know up front, let the work tell you. If you do know up front or think you do, be open to something new.

4. Make the theme universal and uplifting. Most people do not want to hear a book about how terrible your Aunt Elsie was. But they would like to read about what you learned from an aunt you did not like.

You need a reason for the reader to want to read your book, to stick with it through to the end.

5. Lead your reader by the hand, so don’t make them work to understand what you have written. Does your story flow logically and chronologically?

Are you forcing your reader on without information you have in your head that they don’t.  You remember what happened in 1963. They might not, at least not what you mean when you say “The events of 1963 threw me into a tailspin.” 

Maybe they are English and think of C.S.Lewis’s death, coincidentally the same day John Kennedy died.

6. Use every page to drive a single story forward. You will catch this when you are editing. Perhaps you talked about other memories in 1963 that had nothing to do with the trauma of Kennedy’s death. Do those memories drive the story about the year you grew up? Or is anyone going to care that you bought your first mohair sweater that year?

7. Save deleted paragraphs for use later, in a new work, for inspiration, or even for a different place in this work.

I suggest you keep a file with such paragraphs and other things, like emails, facebook posts, newspaper clippings, or old letters that can be used for inspiration later.

8. Never lose sight of your theme. This means pulling out or developing further material that does not serve its place in this work.

Assignment: Begin a piece with the words I remember or Memories play funny tricks on you… Then choose two pages of that material to read in class.

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