Creative Writing and Memoir Class Notes

Carol Brennan King  February 23, 2021

Creative Writing

  1. In Creative Writing today, we talked about literary fiction and how it differs from genre fiction. Genre fiction may have non-realistic elements and/or clearly-identifiable tropes. (any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used repeatedly). Think a commonly recurring literary device, motif or cliches in creative works.

Sometimes an example makes it easier to understand.

When you see a child wearing a cape and you know they are pretending to be Superman, you have recognized the trope that superheroes wear capes.  That’s all a trope is: a commonplace, recognizable plot element, theme, or visual cue that conveys something in the arts. (

However, literary fiction does not contain such tropes. Literary fiction is and means to be literally understood. They are stories set in the present day and describe ordinary life lived by ordinary people.

Another way to understand literary fiction is to see it as having literary merit as opposed to genre fiction, stories written for the story, not as literature. Genre fiction focuses on the plot. Literary Fiction focuses on the character

  • Oliver Fox in a post at says literary fiction may be characterized by archaism or outmoded diction, syntax, or both because it written true to the time the events were to have occurred. He says, “literary style is the use of experimental, self-conscious, attention-grabbing prose,” his words, not mine.

Marilynne Robinson is an example of a writer of literary fiction. Think realism. Home: A Novel by [Marilynne Robinson] is one example and LILA is another of her books.

  • Rather than beginning at the inciting incident and ending after the resolution of the conflict, literary fiction may begin in the middle of things.

A key to literary fiction is the emphasis and use of characters that are real and not necessarily friendly, beautiful. and “good.”

It is not unusual to see many main characters, most of whom will not be there because they did something significant. Think real life and the way you bump into many people in the course of a day, unintentionally. However, you might be affected by or influenced by them and therefore think a lot about them.

Another key to literary fiction is that it focuses on internal conflict as opposed to external conflict.  Therefore, plot is not a central concern, and the pace of literary fiction is slow and determined.

  • Finally, in Oliver’s words: The writer’s approach to the story uses a unique tone, “influenced by either the hopeless naivete of modernism or the cynical irony of postmodernism. The story has a dark, open-ending, ambiguous and unhappy, conclusion, leaving most questions the narrative raised unanswered. The story may even propose a radical ideology meant to overturn the status quo.”

Oliver uses The Road by Cormac Mc Carthy as an example of the tone that can be seen in literary fiction.

Resource for this class:

The assignment is to write a scene focusing on presenting it as literary fiction with the emphasis on the character or characters and what moves them to do or say what they do and say.

Memoir Writing

Today we talked about new or different perspectives we can take as we write our memoirs. Yes, they are still the stories of our family or our own stories, our history, but they may also overlap with some of the perspectives seen in fiction.

The 4 pillars of Family Memoirs

  1. Location, location, location. Do some brainstorming about unique places where you lived, from unusual (for any reason) homes, locales, or countries and how they influenced your life
  2. And then people those environments. Do you have any stereotype or unusual characters in your greater family circle? What part did they play in your life even if they weren’t aware of their influence, or if they were. Think the relative that would never go home, or the one you would never see but heard much about.
  3. Then brainstorm your family tree for stories that could be told. Think of series of stories or books or epic books. Consider the story that could be built around how your family came to this country. Or check out how many of your family served in the military or in war time – what story could be waiting there. How did the depression affect your family or the pandemic of 1918 or Hurricanes Hazel or Agnes or Katrina. What fodder awaits you in the pages of your family history?
  4. Maybe your story is not just history. Is there a beautiful love story in those pages? Was there a great loss and then a recovery? Or perhaps not a recovery. Do you have a family mystery – how someone ended up looking nothing like anyone else in the family? OR a disappeared relative or one who came into money and no one knows how? Is there the story of an overcomer, someone who rose from nothing to an abundance?

Don’t just think genealogy when you think memoir!

Prompts for this week include the following:

  • Someone who impacted your life
  • I want to be like……
  • You get that from me…..
  • My life was never the same after….

Pick one or try several out. Then bring your favorite to class.

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