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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Light is on

The proverbial “aha” moment came last night, during the fourth class of the fiction writing workshop I’m taking through a grant at our public library.

The leader handed us four writing prompts, but as my eyes scrolled through each bulleted suggestion, I muttered “nope” and moved on. In the end though, I had to choose one. I stared at my blank page for a few minutes—then forced myself to begin scribbling.
 
When we put down our pens (or an I-Pad in one case), our leader asked how we felt about the four exercise choices. I admitted that I’d struggled. Each prompt included a situation that made me squirm in my seat—and in real life I tend to steer away from conflict the way our cat avoids the bathtub.

Yesterday, I learned if I want to become a fiction writer, I have to stop that.

I don’t I need to pick fights in real life, but I sure as heck better develop some doozy situations for my characters. To date, I have failed in that regard. I’m the first one to acknowledge that the two projects I’m working on are boring. Now I understand why. Description, yup, I suppose I’ve got that down; but if I look over the limited bulk of my work; I’ve never given a character an issue to deal with that was resolved with anything more than a minimum of angst. It's time to ratchet up the volume if you will. This means since I need to “become” my characters while I write about them, then I have to live through what they experience. For a practiced conflict-avoider, the intimidation factor just climbed to the top of the chart.

To quote our leader: “An author must provide high stakes moments in fiction that keep readers reading…There must be complications—messy, potentially disastrous circumstances where there is a lot at stake.” So far, all I’ve done is created and resolved situations in a way that would make a reader say “Meh.”

I didn’t sleep well last night. I was busy lighting houses on fire, killing off folks, introducing myself to alcoholics, ruining marriages and creating children from previous relationships. It doesn’t do much for a night’s rest, but if I challenge myself to live through it, someday it might make for good fiction.

***

If you happen to be looking for writing prompts, here are the four from last night (I chose #1): 
  • A man considers shoplifting a gift for his girlfriend while she browses in handbags.
  • A woman hides in a preschool so she can keep an eye on her three-year-old
  • A girl comes home for Thanksgiving, doing everything she can not to tell her parents she’s quit college
  • A boy tries to get his parents out of the house before the teacher calls to tell them he punched a boy at recess.

 

12 comments:

Jan Morrison said...

Yes, this has been my buggabear too. Possibly amplified by my work as a therapist. Arggh.
I'm getting better at it and so will you!

Anne Gallagher said...

Wow, I loved all four of those. Especially the one at Thanksgiving.

That's one thing I can say, I love angst. Give me a sticky situation, and I'll make it ten times worse. But that's what it's all about, writing, that is. You have to find the oomph factor. You have to find an ugly situation and make it uglier before the MC can really get to the end.

Go you, I know you can do it.

glnroz said...

you will master it,,, i am certain,,,

Sharon said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe there is much "angst" underneath everything you've blogged about your job, your self-image, your motherhood. Liza, I think you have all the ingredients and more than your share of the skills. Mix 'em up and see what delicious results you get. I'm a fan!

EmptyNester said...

I'm still in awe of the fact that you are out there writing fiction. It's something I've always wanted to do, but never have because, I wouldn't be good at it. I'll just stick to reading it, and I can't wait to read some of yours!

'Yellow Rose' Jasmine said...

So interesting that as one who would rather avoid conflict it is tough to go through even in a fantasy world. I could relate to that for sure. Maybe that's why I never actually pursued writing. As a kid I wanted to and then found reasons that it would never work for me, even as those around me said I should write not even knowing that I had ever wanted to. But the idea of having to face more conflict is just scary. Having only recently found ways to stop living everyone elses drama I don't know how willing I would be to dive into any fictional conflict situations. I hope that for you this can work without making you into someone you are not. There must be a balance there somewhere. Yes it will be hard work but I'm sure you can find it, as committed as you are to your writing.

Aubrie said...

Hello from a fellow New Englander! (NH)

I have trouble picking fights with my characters, too! I cringe when I type something I'd never do!

Great blog!

Mary Vaughn said...

These are four great stories in the making.

I get the instant block thing. I get it when there a must write.

Bish Denham said...

Oh I like those. I could easily see me doing #4 and putting a comical twist on it, leading perhaps to an accidental fire in the garage that scorches his dad's hotrod. (All that just to avoid facing probably minor punishment for punching, let's say, the class bully.)

Postman said...

Stephen King says "Kill your darlings." One of the hardest things I've had to learn about being a writer is that you have to be downright cruel to your characters sometimes. Brew conflict. Throw them into tense, unpleasant, or deadly situations. Harm them, hurt them, whack them about. It's difficult to persuade yourself, but otherwise your work will be end up being a happy little land where nothing ever goes wrong, and readers will drop it faster than a hot potato.

Helen Ginger said...

With the latest book I'm working on, from the opening sentence, it's clear the protagonist is planning to do something horrific.

Very interesting prompts!

Mary Anne Gruen said...

It sounds like writing is making you stretch and look into other options. I like happy endings, but I like some adventure along the way.