December 14, 2008

Stop Being so Damn Passive

After a semester of crunching out some killer prose, not to mention a paper for Japanese Film that garnered me 100% (I know, I know..no paper is ever that good), I can now sit down and reassess a couple short stories to get them ready for submission. Good teachers this semester, in particular Genni Gunn who was kind enough to be ruthless with her comments regarding my work.

Many Creative Writing instructors don't want to discourage students from writing. Someone submits a heap of horse-shit, wrought with grammar errors, incoherent metaphor, poor narrative arc--all signs of either a) too busy (or lazy) to really buck down and write something of quality or b) in desperate need of criticism. The teacher, upon reading said pile of dung, proceeds to coddle the student for several minutes before daintily suggesting they may want to consider using a spell-checker. Bollocks. A little truth is helpful every now and then. Maybe some people should be discouraged.

Enter Genni Gunn. She read several of my stories, all pretty good--better than anything else I've written to date, and got straight to the heart of the matter. Here's our conversation at the last peer edit session:

I think I've noticed a pattern.

Uh-oh.

All your characters are passive.

Really?

Your language is good, setting is good, metaphor is good. But your characters wander through their stories doing nothing. They allow things to happen to them. They need to be active.

Shit.

Exactly.


It hurt to hear that. I mean, you work so hard on perfecting the complexities of good story-writing only to find out you've bunged up the simple must-do. But I'm glad she just said it. I mean, what serious writer wouldn't want to know what they're doing wrong? I wonder why so many other teachers let this obvious problem slip by?

So Genni, thank you for the A+ this semester, thanks for tearing my work a new a-hole. Much appreciated.

2 comments:

jasongoode said...

I feel you pain. A genius writer/director/actor friend of mine who has the gift of being both gentle and totally honest constantly reminds me: YOUR CHARACTERS NEED TO BE FIGHTING FOR SOMETHING.

Oh, yeah. Whoops.

Harry Tournemille said...

Yes, indeed. Fighting, or at least being active with the story. My suspicion is that it's a natural tendency to avoid this. I mean, to tell the story without stepping into cliche, or to show a scene without becoming overly precious or didactic. Not always so easy.