Just about every writer who travels thinks about using the experience of foreignness in a story or essay or poem, and plenty others feel compelled to at least blog about it. Travel provides us with intense, complex experiences, unfamiliar settings, interesting characters, and the heightened self-awareness that comes from dislocation. But the results are sometimes disappointing, failing to capture the distinctive emotion and vividness of being on that particular street, dealing with that particular conflict at that particular time, much less developing into a coherent piece of writing.
We all have stories inside of us. Stories to tell, to share. In fact, one might argue that we are stories —creating our lives, day to day, every day. One of today’s most exciting writing forms—the personal memoir— is swiftly becoming the narrative option and publishing entry for many writers willing to embark on journeys of self. Yet for a memoir to speak with any resonance or relevance, the writer must achieve a fragile balance between the self and others, between content and form.
Any prose benefits from sharpening the tools most often associated with playwriting: monologue, dialogue, and silence. Whether it is in the compelling presence of the monologue in the radio work of NPR’s Ira Glass and David Sedaris, the sharp stylized dialogue in the plays of Harold Pinter and August Wilson, the aching humor found in the scripts of Amazon’s Transparent, or the wry poignant humor in the stories of Lorrie Moore, modern prose leans heavily on theatrical instances of people speaking to each other and to themselves.
In an effort to answer the cardinal question of memoir—who cares?—this workshop/seminar zeroes in on what’s most compelling about our life stories. What about you is potentially interesting to others? What’s that inciting incident, organizing principle, heat-seeking moment, that could drive your memoir?
“The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.”—Gaston Bachelard
You’ve finally carved out some time in your life to write. You have great ideas, maybe even a new computer. But when you sit down to write, your muse refuses to speak. Or worse, the muse gets you started, and then disappears for weeks at a time. Should you give up? Move on to a different project? Are you just not talented enough? Or is there some way to coax your muse back?
In this course, we will write a series of short personal essays using a range of approaches in style, structure and point of view. Whether it is a story you’ve told many times, one you’ve wanted to tell, or one you don’t think you can tell, this course will offer you ways in and around your particular story. We will ask ourselves why we tell the stories we tell; what we might gain from telling the same story from different perspectives; and how our own telling might alter the past, allowing it to become deeper and richer.
Stories, plots, themes, characters, scenes, sentences, even single words emerge from many sources—from the mind, from memory, from family and friends, from experience lived and imagined. They also emerge from deep within—a place with no physical boundaries, a place where the essence of you, as a writer, resides. Call it your inner self, your soul, your quintessence. It’s where you get in touch with your Writerly Self. Rather than seek what’s in your mind, reflective writing seeks what’s within you but may not be immediately apparent to you.
Imagine a story of people with no depth. Or characters without emotion. Imagine scenes with hollow dialogue. Or a setting that doesn’t rise even to blandness. Imagine a story that blatantly disregards the richness our senses deliver. That may happen when we don’t utilize the five basic tools that unleash soul and spirit into our writing.
All of us encounter dramas in life that seem tailor-made for narrative. But when sitting down to pen such seeming “ready-mades,” we often find that they don’t come to life, drag, or simply seem to lose their once-brilliant shine when committed to paper. So, we ask, how do writers such as Bill Bryson, Jon Krakauer, and Sebastian Junger write such engaging narratives? Or Tobias Wolff, Mary Karr, and Jeannette Walls? This class will examine a variety of nonfiction forms, from the memoir to the specific-subject yarn drawn from a decades old once-hot news item.