Writing as Fiction as if it were Memoir

by Intermittent Rain ~ March 24th, 2020

There was something in Mary Karr’s “The Art Of Memoir” that stuck with me.

I listened to this as an audiobook from the library so it’s difficult to quote exactly but the specifics are less important than the process. She mentioned searching for a scene from her life that showed an example of her father and, something. How he loved her or some other other characteristic.

Karr had a story, she had a sense of what was important about this angle on her history, and she was rooting around in her childhood for an event that would show the reader something relevant to the story.

This, I thought, is how fiction should be written. Root about in your world, in your character’s history, or in their present, for moments and scenes that make relevant statements about what you want to show to the reader.

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There is a subtle difference between this compared with being told, while writing fiction, to come up with the psychological source of your character’s anger or fear or love. For one, there is the sense that the moment already exists and it’s a matter of picking the best one, which is how it should feel in fiction. For another, these fictional character histories often take the form of internal narrative: reflective, lacking action, taking place in the head of the main character.

As an example, I had three sections of backstory in a recent story. I used some dialog to make it less dry and telling but they were largely presented as internal narrative. As a writing exercise, I listed the important information of each section, and for the first two I wrote scenes that would convey those same key points. With a little revision and some transition adjustments I swapped those in and the story came to life. The third section covered a longer period of time and more character change and since it was few words and now the only section of static internal narrative I left it as it was.

But I don’t think I would have written or chosen as good a moment or scene to write had I not first written myself into it, by writing it first as backstory, as largely internal narrative. Perhaps this is because I am a pantser and I needed to figure out the story by writing rather than by making notes or an outline.

 

Sixfold

by Intermittent Rain ~ November 19th, 2019

I am entered in the fall 2019 Sixfold competition.

Sixfold is writer-reviewed. I was assigned six stories to rank and review.

I was impressed by how few grammar errors I found. The grammar quality is far above most of the submissions that come to the online publication that I slush read for. I didn’t expect that and I don’t know what this means. Are these stories well workshopped and fixed? Did some of these writers take their stories to a professional editor for correction? Are some of the submissions written by professional short story writers, slumming? Or by journalists or other professional writers trying their hand at short stories?

The quality of the prose was another matter. And the premises of the stories and depth of characters fluctuated with the prose; the better the prose, the better the characters and premise and execution of the premise.

The worst submission was almost childish. It had simplistic dialog that sometimes had nothing to do with the theme of the story (though it fit the setting at that moment) and flat characters and no realistic expression of a very emotional, serious topic. It reminded me of my first NaNoWriMo attempt except with a more serious theme but no perceptible attempt to understand the characters as real people. The grammar is much better than my story from eleven years ago, but execution of the premise is not. And my story wasn’t particularly good.

Yesterday I finished my second round of reviews.

I expected the quality to improve, that all stories that made it to the second round would be the level of the best one or two of the first round but that’s not what I got. I know there is a random factor involved, but none of my second round stories were better than the best of the first, and maybe not even the second best. What did change is the worst story is not quite as bad as the worst of the first. I had a hard time ranking this round because all six were all clustered around the fifth to third best of the previous round.

For the $5 entrance fee I’m not in Sixfold to win it. I’m in it to find some good writers and to send those writers my contact information in hopes of finding some reviewing buddies. The process is entirely confidential except, if you choose, you can leave your contact information in your review.

Sadly, I’ve only done so once, out of twelve reviews.

Ah well, can always hold out hope for better in round three, starting in a week from now.

Mind you, those that make round three receive 78 reviews (in theory, the first round produces 6 reviews, the second 24). Those that make round three have a huge number of reviews and likely a large number of potential contacts.  On the other side, I guess I can hope to make the second round and get 24 reviews and maybe a few potential story-swappers.

Strengths and Weakness of your writing

by Intermittent Rain ~ October 4th, 2019

What are your strengths and weakness as a writer?

You might look at:

  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Plot

How would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 10?

How do others see you?

Then, what about:

  • Dialogue
  • Conflict
  • Prose
  • Theme
  • Description

But then there’s also:

  • Variety
  • Flow
  • Balance
  • Structure

And even within the elements there are sub-characteristics, such as for Character:

  • Believablity
  • Interest
  • Consistency
  • Depth

And the same with all the other basics, they can all be broken down to deeper levels.

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I spend a lot of time looking for what I’m missing in my writing: action, description, clarity, flow. I also look in critiques for what others see as weaknesses: consistency, excess commas, murky wording. I’m trying to improve my writing, trying to make it better, stronger.

Like a musician, trying to improve his upper range to even his tone quality through the entire range. Or a pitcher working on his curve ball so that his fastball will be even more effective.

But there’s value in doing the opposite. In determining what you to best and emphasizing it.

  • Writing powerful interactions if you write dialogue well.
  • Building your story around tortured, complex characters if you are good at understanding and presenting them.
  • Offering inspired settings and descriptions of landscapes and peoples if that always reaches your readers.

Playing to your strengths. Like Shaquille O’Neal who never became a decent free throw shooter. Or a trumpet player not worrying about his high notes because his strength is in his improvisation and ingenuity like Miles Davis. In a jazz big band the highest notes are written for the lead trumpet but solos often go to the second or fourth trumpet, where the strongest improviser sits.

So, where do you sit? What are your strengths and weaknesses?