Creative Writing and Nonfiction/Memoir Writing Class Notes

June 16, 2021                  Carol Brennan King

Well, the first thing I must do is apologize for the mess our notes have been. If you found them, it is only because you looked hard for them. And that is what grief does to you, scrambles your brain to make room for the new trauma. And yes, I am still talking about my trauma in the loss of my brother. But I also promise that this part of the entry will be short.

Scarcely two weeks ago, in fact at the end of the creative writing class, I got a phone call that would upend me. My older brother, who had been critically ill, was finally released from this life. Just not my life. I confess that grief, even though I have lost other loved ones, surprised me with the intensity of pain and intensity of how it interfered with the rest of my life, in particular my thinking.

So, I missed the area where I was to post my class notes. Forgive me, I just didn’t even see it or think of it. But I hope this week is better.


Let’s start, as we did last week, with the prompts for next week, and they are useful for both classes. Take them in any direction you would like to, and if nothing is happening for you using them, that’s fine. Choose something else that will spur your creativity.

We talked about two possibilities in class.

  1. Allow room for an animal in your story.
    • Memoirists: perhaps you might write about a pet, how it came to live in your house, or how it changed your life.
    • Creative writers: you might give one of your characters the experiences above, or create a scene where an animal or bird or fish plays a role.
  2. Write about what happens when something goes missing.
    • Memoirists: Think about when you lost something or someone, OR maybe you took or moved something, so now one of your characters has to deal with the loss.
    • Creative writers: Feel free to adapt the above prompt or write a scene where someone recognizes that something valued (whether financially or emotionally) is missing. Then write what happens after the discovery.

For everyone: You do not have to use the prompts. If you have something you want to write about, please go for it. The point is to write.

In class this week, we talked about several things, a sort of review for those of you who recognized that we had talked about these subjects before.

We talked about VOICE – what you sound like in your own writing or your character sounds like. Remember, I talked about hearing my mother read a letter my brother wrote, and how I said that it sounded just like my brother, as if he was talking. I didn’t say this, but there is no way I would have thought any of my siblings wrote that letter. The writer sounded just like the way my brother talked.

So your characters must not sound like you; they must sound like who they are, reflecting their education, life place and experience, and perhaps their family of origin. In general, everything we experience has a part in the development of our voice.

If you are writing a memoir, the narrator, or you, ought to sound like you. You should speak or write the same way you would if you were simply telling the story.

Here are a couple of resources you could check for more help on voices.

We talked about Dialogue. Let me suggest you do a couple of exercises.

  • Write a page of dialogue between two people – no more than one page.
  • Then write another page or two using that dialogue but pay attention to the setting, the appearances of the character and anything else that will orient the reader to the scene.

The point is people don’t have conversations in a vacuum. Where they are affects what they say, how they say it, what kind of language they use. For example, you might want to tell you child to behave in church one way. I think it would sound very different if we overheard you telling them to behave at home.

Pay attention to body language. Are they both sitting or standing? Does one person move, where and why?

And don’t say something like this: Janet angrily told Susan to leave the candy jar alone. Show us what she did that showed her anger.

The second version should be, as someone in class said, much richer and a bit longer.

The point is writing dialogues also gives you space to develop your characters and to move the story along.

Well, I must move me along, and I look forward to seeing you next Wednesday. The weather forecast today projects warm (73) and sunny for us, so bring or wear a jacket or sweater. Our space is breezy.

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