Companion Notes For Burroway Ch. 1 & 2. The purpose of ... As Janet Burroway
tells us, this means that just because something “really happened” doesn't ...
ENGL&151/152/153 – Creative Writing (Online) Companion Notes For Burroway Ch. 1 & 2 The purpose of these notes is to supplement (not replace!) your reading in Burroway. Please consult these notes only after completing the assigned reading in the book. Chapter One Fiction is oftentimes about the emotional undertow of things. It is not to “mean something,” or to make an argument. Your job as fiction writer, above all else, is to create a credible world. As Janet Burroway tells us, this means that just because something “really happened” doesn’t mean it is credible enough to be used in your fiction. The justification, “but that’s what she really said!” is not enough. Over the coming weeks we will explore the various ways you create that credible world in fiction. Do not start out with a plan. Instead, write to figure out the plan. Doing so will keep your writing honest and not overly contrived. Contrivance will be the death of your short story. As writers, we use writing to find our story, keeping in mind that if in the end we get what we expected when we set out, it isn’t good enough. Why? Because the surprises and turns in a story (for the writer as well as the reader) are what make it energetic, interesting, and credible. And so, the process of learning how to write creatively is a process of becoming comfortable fumbling through the dark. The Story Notion Then how do you begin? You begin with what can be called “the story notion,” which is anything you observe in the world, no matter how small, that strikes you as interesting enough to write about, even (especially!) if you don’t have the full story. For example: * Events * Images or Scenes * Phrases * People * A bit of dialogue * Places * Slogans * Conversations * Something you saw or overheard Janet Burroway gives us a warning about genre fiction. Please heed it. Keep a journal of the kind Burroway talks about if you want. I will not ask to see it, nor will it have any impact on your grade. As soon as it enters that sort of arena, it ceases to be a journal and it becomes something else. The important thing to remember with keeping a journal (and with developing your writerly eyes in general) is to record observations (outer-‐ directed) more than feelings (inner-‐directed). This, as Burroway suggests, will train you to observe the world, not your own brain. We will revisit the material about workshops in a few weeks when we get there.
Chapter Two Creating a credible world means creating a world your reader can enter. This is done with details and images, not with ideas. Ideas are abstract and are therefore not images. Images are concrete, and they evoke one or several of our five senses. Inventory The inventory in your piece of fiction is a fundamentally important type of image. Inventory is all the “stuff” that’s there. Furniture, clothing, food, cars, telephones, wool socks, oven cleaner, an old leather-‐bound atlas, the third turkey sandwich Marty had that day, etc. Without these things, you don’t have a credible world. So, fill your story with inventory! Along with inventory, we must also always remember the body. All your characters have bodies, and bodily details make good images. Keep in mind that throughout history, whenever a character has entered the scene, they are described in terms of their eyes and hair. Break free of these constraints! In addition to what people look like, investigate other aspects of bodily experience. Is your character hungry, tired, or cold? Has he been sitting too long? These aspects of our humanity are part of what make your characters credible. Another part is the fact that they had a life before page one. Or at least your reader must believe that they did. So, how are you as a writer creating a sense that we as readers have come into someone’s life? What was the character doing the night before the story started? Why are we getting the story on this day in their life? When was the last time those two saw each other? And so on. There are various ways to answer these questions in fiction, but for now it’s enough simply to begin training yourself to think about the questions. Burroway instructs us in the usefulness of nouns and verbs in creating imagery. These are wise words! Unfortunately whoever named all the parts of speech got at least one wrong: adjectives. Commonly known as “describing” words, adjectives are not always (and I won’t even say usually) the best way to describe and create images. Nouns and verbs take precedence, so start to be aware of how many nouns, verbs, and adjectives you are using. The first two should far outnumber that last one. Finally, in this chapter Burroway raises one of the central tenets of creative writing: show don’t tell. If you don’t already know, this is an idea you’ll want to get quite familiar with. Showing (by way of image, detail, inventory, etc.) allows the reader to form judgments, instead of the writer making judgments herself.