I’m going insane, and it’s YOUR fault, fiction class.
I see and hear words everywhere.
When I walk in the street, I look around me and think “that person would make a great character in my fiction story.” I assign them personalities, like Alisia’s stories and Julia’s descriptions of strangers (read their posts — they’re great).
When I meet unlikeable people, I’m all the more attached to them… because they would make such great characters. I went to the optometrist a few days ago, and he had the most pseudo-educated, formulaic speech I’ve ever heard. (I wish I’d taken notes so I could emulate it.) On the way home, my dad was just ranting angrily about the snobby attitude the guy had, and I was just laughing because I found him so amusing — in a fiction-reading kind of way. Now every time I feel myself getting irritated, I think ‘I’m-reading-this-character-in-a-fiction-story!’ and then I’m amused and over it. I should become an anger-management counselor.
When I’m around familiar people, I increasingly notice their little obsessions and personality quirks, and wonder — how could these be imaginatively described in a story? I’m always twiddling with my hairline. My dad cannot stand it when I cut the cheese slanted, because he wants perfect rectangular slices on his bread.
When I hear or I think of something unusual, philosophical, inspiring or interesting, I scribble it down on whatever’s in front of me — assignment sheets, my poor graffitied pencil pouch, my hand, Shanyi’s planner… I’ve been dreaming of starting a scrapbook of these stolen words for a long time. Hopefully Winter Break will be the time for that.
And, the last straw: to the dismay of my parents, I’ve been adding strange, strange similes to the end of random sentences. “I feel so much better after my nap! … like a grasshopper.” What’s wrong with me?
I’ll keep you updated on the progression of my disease. I’m sure more symptoms will appear. (Today’s pretty bad… two blog posts in one day? This is UNHEARD of!)
PS. The “Let people reply” checkbox appeared randomly when I typed that last question mark… When I typed on, or backspaced, it disappeared! What’s wrong with my tumblr account?! (Oh look, it’s back! … and gone again.) If anyone knows how to enable comments/likes/whatever other fancy things people (JULIA) have on their tumblrs, HELP ME!
Wheee, it’s so much fun to get thirty personalized letters in one day. :)
But it’s really overwhelming, at the same time. So many conflicting responses and opinions.
Julia mentioned in her blog that her story feels like her baby. Ugh, that’s a perfect metaphor! I’m really bad about editing… Once I finish a first draft, I’ve become so attached to every event and personality quirk that it feels like murder to delete or change anything!
Annie Dillard discusses this (I like Annie Dillard, she makes me think): “Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart… surely the writer needs it, too, as ground work. But no.”
But no? :(
Sooo, regarding workshop. It seems that readers were divided between (1) love it! and (2) can’t relate to it/don’t particularly care for it. I can’t blame anyone — I’ve felt rather ambivalent about some stories that seemed really well-liked as a whole. I think literature, like everything in life, is really a hit or miss, and not much in between. Especially my story.
And that’s okay. I’m starting to think (although this may just be my excuse for being lazy. shhh.) that tailoring the story to fit the ‘ehh’ opinions would just weaken it among the ‘squee’ opinions.
When writing my story, I only had one basic goal: In our class stories, there have been so many deaths, traumatic experiences, and complicated, twisted plots, that I wanted to make something simple, straightforward, and distinct. (My original idea: a man who has gotten skin grafts after a terrible accident is then haunted by the memories of the skin donors. LOL.)
To be honest, I didn’t have a coherent idea of what was going to happen before I started writing. To my unfortunate doom, I really despise outlines. Here’s a secret: I wrote the story scene by scene, out of sequence, letting it shape itself. (If you’re curious, it was (1) refrigerator scene - maybe that’s why it doesn’t quite fit in (2) sixth-grade camp (3) tweezer scene (4) playground scene (5) everything elevator.)
My stylistic inspiration: Lorrie Moore. Because her writing is so tight and powerful, and there are no wasted words. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking or understanding. It’s a little different from anything I’ve ever read or written before. Although it’s third person omniscient, Lisa’s feelings - of being the runt, third wheel, left out - are never explicitely stated. I hoped it would be more powerful to convey that with sentences such as “Lisa sits at the tire swing by herself… She buys tweezers on the way home…” etc. Personalities are conveyed through behavioral quirks (Melody’s obsession with playing God with the elevator buttons and card dealing, Allyson’s verbal bullying, the tension during the game of cards).
I think it’s really hard to empathize with this story without the experience of such a friendship. I think someone asked why Lisa stays with them, and that’s a hard question to answer. (It’s like Yanjin’s abusive relationship, sort of.) Although Allyson and Melody can be jerks, there are those moments when Lisa feels a connection to them. I hoped to convey that in the group dynamic during their adventures (we’re-rebels-together) and the recess Melody and Lisa spend together. And there’s a certain charisma to Allyson’s authority and Melody’s vivaciousness, at least to Lisa’s shy, insecure mind.
So some people complained that they couldn’t see an overall authorial message. To be honest, there isn’t really one, because I don’t think there is an answer to Lisa’s issues in real life. (A— actually analyzed a lot deeper than I intended: “standing up for yourself and taking control leads to bad things happening.” I laughed, because I never realized the story could be interpreted that way.) Lisa sticks with the girls because they mean something to her (oops, excuse the pun), and that’s all she’s ever known — like Astara with her boyfriend.
Opinions were split about 50-50 between (1) storyline has no real plot, tension or narrative arc, and (2) I like it the choppy, jerky way it is. The reason everything is in present tense is because the action feels more immediate that way. The flashbacks are as important as (if not more than) the present-tense elevator scene. You’re right, there is no outline to the story — it’s basically a series of snapshots that illustrate how painful a friendship can be, especially to a middle schooler.
In the end, I hoped it would be at once lighthearted and serious.
(For the record, there were no intended student-teacher crushes, or vice-versa. ><)
First of all, my sincere apologies for being so absent.I still love you all, and read your blog posts more than you think! But I’ve been really very busy (a week of recording conservatory prescreening materials, five college apps completed in five days, a lot of music to learn and practice, the usual schoolwork, some earnest story edits, and a lot of time absorbed by I-don’t-even-know-what)… Okay, finished with the excuses, here’s a post — finally! This is something I’ve been pondering for a while…
I checked out a book of Lorrie Moore’s short stories from the library titled “Birds of America.” As usual, I absolutely love Lorrie Moore—but I figured out that the reason that she resonates with me is because her characters remind me so much of myself. But, to tell the truth, even her characters get old after a while… because they’re all alike. They’re all girls (no joke, all five of her short stories I’ve read so far were girls, probably in their late twenties). These girls usually have rather sad childhoods and strained relationships with their mothers. They have shy, antisocial tendencies and professions related to writing (ranging from test question writer to librarian), but they still have quirky, vivid, lovable personalities that shine through to the reader. They unexpectedly fall in love with a stranger, an older man, but become disillusioned with their relationship when he ends up cheating on them with an attractive work associate (and after all, he never understood them to begin with). They strive to find meaning in their absurd lives — but never quite do, because there is no meaning to be found. Okay, it’s an oversimplification… I still absolutely adore her and her odd metaphors and her nonchalant (but oh so poignant) philosophies. Here’s an acute description of everything I love about her writing, because I couldn’t describe it better (prologue to the book): “With her characteristic wit and piercing intelligence she unfolds a series of portraits of the lost and unsettled of America, and with a trademark humor that fuels each story with pathos and understanding.” The portraits are probably all Lorrie Moore, too.
It got me wondering… Can we only ever write from one perspective (our own)? How narrow, how confining… how depressing! And even if we were to try to write from another perspective we have never experienced…Would it be credible, or realistic, or true? Maybe that’s why we need a world of writers. One person is never enough. Like many of you have observed, I’ve also noticed that nearly all of our class’s stories were distinctly like their authors—either in voice or in character.
So I’ve made a challenge for myself to defy these norms, to write about the three impossible characters: - A character that is very different from me - A character that I don’t like - A character that is like me that bad things happen to (that was not grammatically correct…)
I’ll let you know how it works out. :)
PS. Tumblr keeps being inaccessible. It had a database error again as I tried to publish. (Good thing I learned my lesson.) And I hate how it disables comments. (Although apparently this post allows them? Sometimes a checkbox randomly appears on the side… Say hi, please!). Also, the formatting is really temperamental. Should I switch to wordpress or blogspot?