I learned a lot at my Kenyon College writing camp. I learned about when to use different forms of dialogue. I learned about revelations, voice and x and y. I learned about repetition. I learned to listen. Chris Tilghman is a lovely man. He guides with self-deprecating wisdom. He shares his soul in an easy, remarkable fashion. He and my colleagues – especially Caitlin Fitzpatrick, our writing fellow – buoyed my spirits, reminded me to be less of an ass and more a writer. Just listen.
The final lesson: Endings need to be surprising and yet inevitable. The writer needs to resolve things and have something else to say in the end.
A writing guidebook doesn’t exist, and if did, it would confuse.
A story can’t be someone reflecting about their self. That’s boring. Same with the Uber Voice. Boring. The first person is interesting because it looks out at the world. The third person examines others in detail as well as, of course, the self. Seeing someone else through another’s eyes just might be the highest level of interiority. Omniscient first person, that’s the thing. Half of us are firsters. Half of us are thirders. In the end, first and third person is mere grammar. Boom, boom.
Chris Tilghman, our adviser, has shared many words from poet, Jane Hirshfield:
The work of existence devours its own unfolding/ What dissolves will dissolve. There is no name for the thing you care about most.
Camp is good. I’m learning:
a. Showing is an illusion of telling, because it’s all on the page.
b. Dramatizing consciousness is the thing.
c. You need to cut through the thicket. You’ve got to get there in the end.
Notes from the morning session:
Readers read through their body, making them move. If there is something to hold, they want to feel that.
An implicature: “It’s cold in here.” (Meaning close the window.)
A bad echo is an alliteration that isn’t effective.
Novel is the work of accumulation, not selection.
Focus is everything. Despite a tepid reaction to my first assignment – and being told that my character (me?) is an unlikable jerk, perhaps racist – I found myself getting on track. The details are the thing. And today’s work at Kenyon College on a variety of ways to implement dialogue is a good way to move things forward:
Dee reached in for the last of the pups, already half out of the incubator, not wanting to be alone. “I was six months old. You don’t remember anything at that age.”
“You can remember some things,” Calli replied. “I can remember lots of smells, like that blue blanket. I turn back into a baby when I remember it.”
Ashe laughed. “No way.”
“I think about your aunt as a little girl – she was barely three – trying to get our mother to wake up and not understanding why she wouldn’t.” The images coursed through Dee, almost like Calli had described, the smells of the kitchen, the sun across the floor and then the dark, her own stink rising with her mother’s. “I was crying too. Don’t forget that. She had to feed me cereal and bread, handfuls and handfuls of it. And still I wouldn’t stop.”
Ashe had her face pressed close to the pup’s. “How long were you there with her?”
“Three days,” Calli answered. “She’s told us like a million times.”
I’ve arrived in Ohio for a writing conference or, as my niece calls it, ‘camp’. This is actually – her favorite word – a more accurate description given not so much the bucolic atmosphere as the bleak accommodations. It’s the sort of place – despite the well-placed trees and 200-year history – that does not inspire as much as subdue. My best work from the day: The fucking earnestness of discussing the horrors of the world when they are so far away – that deeper feeling of humanity, the western mind – is what is wrong with this fucking world, pretending to care, to love, to be willing to die for, when the truth is, the time will come – it’s called 5pm – when they don’t care because the children have come home and a favorite show is on. And that is all.
Being at a writing nadir, more interested in my video poker than figuring out what I should be writing next, I need more than new writers who think they might be interested in writing but aren’t quite sure.I know I am being judgmental, but I really have to get out of my sci-fi quagmire!