Sunday, February 15, 2009

Week One

I'm sorry this is so late, my internet is out and Comcast keeps telling me 'another hour or two'....for days.

The method of teaching writing as taught at Hopkins in IFP, is to start with the truth. We start with memoirs and move on to short stories. I'm not quite sure why. All it leads to is the inevitable post-IFP 1 back and forth between teacher and student: "This plot isn't strong enough/significant enough/is kind of boring" "BUT THAT'S HOW IT REALLY HAPPENED!" Truth-as-it-really-happened has no place in fiction. One of my students actually brought up the idea of truth in fiction. Fact and fiction is a concept that I've taken entire classes on and still haven't figured out completely, but I like to use a concept popularized by Stephen Colbert: fiction isn't true, but it is truthy

The problem with starting with memoir and moving on to a 5-page short story is that you never really sit down and look at what is actually necessary for a short story. What IS a story? What separates it from anecdotes? What makes it worthy of being written down and maybe published and actually read by somebody else? Writing Seminars frustrated me until my IFP 2 teacher introduced flash fiction. (Fiction that's 1000 words, max--an entire story.) I think its one of the most challenging things to write but also one of the most useful--because every word has to count. And if you practice enough flash fiction, when you begin to write longer stories you still keep that idea that every word does some kind of work, and it makes you a better writer. 

So that's where I started. We read some flash fiction. One, a short story called Sleeping by Katharine Weber, is about a girl hired to babysit a baby that doesn't exist. It is, despite its length, a very traditional story. We also read What I Know Of Your Country (and I forget the author of that one), but an interesting story told from the perspective of a man working in a call center in India. I think they liked it. I was torn between that one and one called The Orange, which is about an orange that is the god of the universe until it is eaten by a man who buys it at Safeway, but I'm glad I didn't go with that, as I think its a slightly more experimental story.

They've been assigned to write their own flash fictions. I've seen people in advanced fiction classes struggle with one or two page stories; I think they were grateful for the brevity of the assignment but I don't think they realize just how challenging it is. Next week I'm going to use those to teach them how to workshop.

Baltimore School of the Arts is a beautiful school. I know everyone there is a dancer or a musician or an artist or an actor, and I would love to try to find a way to incorporate that into the class itself. 

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