Thursday, May 24, 2007


We've been through this before, but it helps to realize, as Heraclitus did, that you can't reenter the same this. You may indeed be reentering but in doing so you are not the same person much less the same writer. In between reentering thens, you've received rejection notices from places you didn't expect, were given acceptances by places you didn't expect, and had a number of ideas you simply were not capable of having before.

Class went well enough tonight; some eyebrows were raised when I passed out the Ten Rules governing behavior between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, but these guys are paying big bucks for tuition and are dead serious to be shown ways to get the work to come and, subsequently, ways that will help them stand out of the way in order to let the work get along with itself instead of defending, explaining, or justifying. Good narrative needs no defense, explanation, or justification.

It was last night when the Big Notion came tumbling forth. You guys are on a quarter system, which means I have ten weeks, ten three-hour sessions in which to demonstrate to you how you might pull breathable, memorable short stories forth.

Can't be done. Doesn't work that way, particularly not for undergraduates. You can learn some of the process that goes into writing a short story, but even with the best time management, you're fighting an uphill battle.

The best you can do is learn how to work yourself into a fearful lather, which you then live with until the work is finished, whereupon you work yourself into a different kind of fearful lather in which you wonder if you're leaving too much in or not allowing them--your characters--to tell the story instead of you.

Leonard Tourney says it is nothing less than a sophistry to think that the characters are real and have any control. You did workshops with Leonard for nearly twenty years before he moved off into beautiful Republican Utah, in essential disagreement about this point, as you remain today, but if ever there were a wonderful voice of reason and authority to quote, it would be his.

Nevertheless, if you believe the story belongs to the characters and that they have some say in the manners in which they get out of their problems--the mere act of being a character implies having problems--you will provide some background that demonstrates the predilections of the characters and the conventional approaches open to them for solving said problems.

They--the characters--have their story and you have yours. Theirs is more interesting, one of the many reasons you're on your way to writerhood, writerdom, and timing.

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