18 June 2008

He's Beautiful but I Want You to Shoot Him!

Years ago, I took a novel writing class, thinking "wouldn't it be fun to learn how to write a novel."

I was wrong.

This wasn't so much "Do this. Don't do that." which I desperately craved. This was "Try something and we'll let you know if you accidentally get it right."

This is a totally bogus approach for a beginner. You have to know something about plot arcs and pacing and tension and just a gazillion things if you are going to write a novel. You don't have to be great at them but you need to develop a fundamental understanding of at least some of these things because people are not born with this knowledge.

The first class, the instructor read a scene from a book and invited discussion on why the scene worked or didn't. She didn't weigh us down with her own opinions--god forbid! She just let the discussion flow. Then, she sent us home to write whatever we wanted. The following week we were to bring in a prescribed number of pages, with copies for each of the other participants.

From week two forward, we took turns reading aloud and being "constructively critiqued." There were actually quite a few adept writers in the group and it was a pleasure to read/hear their stuff.

Then there were folks like me.

Other participant: So this is a story about the Alamo?

Me: Yes.

Same participant: And you've got a butler as a main character?

Me: Er, yeah. Sort of a Jeeves thing... um...

Same participant, practicing their constructive critiquing skills: Interesting choice.

Me: Well, I had all this butler dialogue that I wanted to work in somehow and... is that bad? I really don't know what I'm doing.

Yet another participant: You used the word "euphonious" on page 3 to describe the sound of the cannon. Can you tell us why?

Me: I liked the sound of it. It's just one of those great sounding words. Eu-pho-ni-ous. Nice, huh?

Yet another participant: Interesting choice.

Me: Did I mention I don't know what I'm doing?

And so it went. I learned nothing except to dread the words "Interesting choice."

Well, that's not quite true. I learned one thing from the instructor. At some point she said, in response to someone else's pages, "It's like in a play... If you're going to mention the rifle above the mantle in the first act, you'd better have someone take it down and shoot someone by the third act."

This was information I could use: Don't focus on extraneous things. If you reference a gun, somebody better shoot it.

I say all this to get to my comment about last night's movie...* No worries, no real spoilers here.

So, last night we rented "Fool's Gold" because it had Matthew "I don't need an excuse to whip my shirt off" McConaughey and Kate Hudson. Hey, something for me and something for hubby. Who cares about the plot?

Except, the movie had bad guys with guns who never shot these guns at the hero. They'd tell him they were going to kill him. They'd wave the guns around. They'd hit the hero on the back of the head with a gun. They'd try to kill him in other ways but they wouldn't shoot him.

That's just wrong.

I know this for a fact because I took that class.

* See? Wasn't that a ridiculously long introduction to a minimally tangential topic? I told you I know nothing about plot arcs and pacing and all that cool stuff...


rs27 said...

What exactly is in that movie for a guy?

I want answers!

AbbotOfUnreason said...

So you went to see Fool's Gold? Interesting choice.

The gun bit is from Chekhov. I was just thinking of it the other day, only I used nurses. Weird.

Gilahi said...

So Abbot, I don't understand. "If you mention a nurse above the mantel in the first act, you'd better have someone take her down and shoot someone by the third act"?

Bilbo said...

About those bad guys with guns who never shoot the hero...you know the corollary to that movie rule, don't you: the bad guys will never kill the hero on the spot. They will always take him someplace else to kill him, so that he has a chance to heroically escape. In MY novel, the scene would be like this:

Bad Guy: "You're the hero, eh?"

Hero: "Yes."

Bad Guy: "BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM." Reload. "BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM." He then encases the hero's corpse in concrete and dumps it into the Marianas Trench. The End.

This is probably why I haven't been published yet.

Sudiegirl said...

I remember writing classes in college as being SOOOOO pretentious; at least you had some civility in yours. With the ones I had, the fellow students could be quite bloodthirsty.

lacochran said...

rs27: Well, hubby says Kate has a certain appeal but I personally don't see it. What I think this movie offers men is the knowledge that they, too, can have women fall all over them if they just make sure they look like Matthew M. And a kickin' Caribbean soundtrack!

"So you went to see Fool's Gold? Interesting choice."

*BLAM!* (Sometimes foreshadowing is over-rated.)

Gilahi: You beat me to it.

Bilbo: Damn straight! (See dead Abbot)

Sudiegirl: There's gotta be something in between, no?

Lemmonex said...

I took a creative writing class in college. The prof told a fellow student his story was "kind of stupid". I find that is an excellent way to teach people...

GreenCanary said...

I had an art class like that... No instruction, just criticism. "Put your work up on the wall and everyone gather 'round." That sentence haunts me to this day. It is what wakes me up at night, drenched in a cold sweat.

GreenCanary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lacochran said...

Lemmonex: Well, it's really swell he softened it with the "kind of". Who could be offended by that?

Greencanary: When did teachers stop teaching?