Fiction Writing

August 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s like that moment when, often early in the morning, perhaps in a strange house, you pass before a mirror you hadn’t known would be there. You see a glimpse of someone reflected in that mirror, and a moment passes before you recognise that that person is yourself. Literature exists in moments like that.

Baxter 1997

The feeling of strangeness and excitement that rushes in with sudden insight that make writing a thrilling craft is what prompted Charles Baxter to describe this experience as ‘re-cognition’. Keeping a writer’s notebook to freewrite for 20 minutes a day for the first week into the course of Creative Writing will keep the juices flowing. So, with a few exercises involving clusters, which are essentially keywords that trigger personal thoughts that work organically than sequentially, I ventured into writing a three-minute passage with a section of a cluster that worked for me best. Each writer will have unique experiences to write from and this exercise proved just that. To prevent the bane of every writer’s life, or the writer’s block, from getting in the way, each writing session should start with this sort of brainstorming that moves our mind in a way that we want to express our deepest innermost selves as possible. The results yielded a surprising fact: I write best from a cluster that stems from a big abstract idea. This may be helpful when working with big themes, like ‘war’, or ‘neighbourliness’ that are best translated into the personal and specific.

My fingers were aching from continuous writing and I had even more reasons to be proud of a day’s work. Finally, to pull analytical and critical studies together, here’s a look at units of structure. Grammar is one aspect that we do not notice with every passing phrase, every sentence we read on a page but with a closer look at grammatical rules, some impossible sequence words are linked together, which deviates from what is acceptable as a sense making phrase. One example is in a line by the poet e.e. cummings (1940):

anyone lived in a pretty how town

The sequence article-adjective-degree-word-noun in ‘a pretty how town’ is not possible in English. It’s odd because where ‘how’ is, which is a degree word, an adjective would have made sense, such as nice, awful. Of course, if we were to change the order of the sequence to read ‘how anyone lived in a pretty town’, not only is the sense of the sentence an entirely different one (how anyone could live in such a pretty town is a mystery to me), if it were to match this interpretation with the rest of the poem, we would find that it doesn’t seem to work. This is apparent in the subsequent use of the word ‘anyone’ that appears in ‘anyone’s any was all to her’ (line 16) and in ‘one day anyone died i guess’ (line 25). It is more likely that the poet uses ‘anyone’ to refer to a nameless unimportant entity that was born and passed on to lie in a grave that experienced the similarly boring and monotonous life he lived in a rather drab town. It makes the poem more thought-provoking than to use a personal pronoun, such as he/she/the woman/Bill/Alice, with the effect being an indefinite pronoun referring to a particular group of people who are emptied of individual significance.

Once more to practising and understanding how words work, a jumbled mixture of sentences that describe the plot of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist was used. The first activity was to put them in the right order looking for evidences in phrases and linking words. The second one asked you to put them in any order you like with possible repetition of some as would be used in a flashback. That was a good exercise. It helped that I had only read Oliver Twist once and never finished reading the whole book. When I checked my answer with the answer key at the back, the story made sense and I was aware of what actual words that told me so.

I have finally been able to make a clear sense of the difference between Foucault’s and Derrida’s view on theory. It meant something as simple as just underlining one defining key phrase and committing it to memory. That should do the trick. Otherwise, why can so many recite the Lord’s Prayer or remember God’s 10 commandments in the Mosaic Law without even trying? Isn’t it all about repetition?


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