New things I’ve learned

SAMSUNG CSCIt’s nearly time to submit my second assignment for Writing Short Fiction. I am enjoying this course so much! I’ve learned a few technical terms which is always something I enjoy, mainly because it makes me feel like I know what I’m talking about. Many of the terms in creative writing have pleasingly dramatic names, In Medias Res for example, starting things in the midst of things, plunging us as readers right in to the action, or Deus ex machina , is a plot device where a new character or situation appears and resolves a tricky plot. A particular favourite is pathetic fallacy not just because it doubles as a marvellously plosive insult but because it’s something I’ve enjoyed before I knew what it was. Ruskin used the phrase as exasperated in reaction to the poets of the nineteenth century and their weaving of nature and emotion. The term is pejorative, but the technique can be beautiful. I’ve been reading much more short fiction, and the use of nature to mirror emotion is a subtle way of creating depth and resonance. When every word has to count, a device that works with experiences that the reader is likely to have experienced is invaluable. Not sure I’d say that to Ruskin, obviously.

The work I’ve been reading has been a revelation. I have an odd relationship with short fiction. Until I started studying, my experience had mostly been short stories in my Mum’s copy of Family Circle magazine.Later on when I tried to read more literary pieces, I found myself oddly dissatisfied, and quite anxious. I didn’t want to invest time in a character who was going to disappear in a pages time. Even once I began studying I found myself overwhelmed with reading competition entries from my peers which were dense, obscure pieces that I didn’t completely get and that left me a little cold. I thought this was how I had to write to be considered good. One of the main things I’ve learnt is that fancy words are just that and the true skill is describing people,situations and feelings in a way that is authentic and good to read.

Happily, there is a middle ground between Family Circle and forced academia.I’ve loved the work of Margaret Atwood since I was seventeen, but avoided her short stories for all the reasons I’ve talked about.Big mistake. They’re as amazing as you would expect, showing the worst of human nature in a way that sits and stirs and stays with me. My tutor has introduced me to other writers too, who create tiny snapshots of life that make me think and make me wish I’d written them. I suppose it’s like food,sometimes a tiny canapĂ© with zingy sharp flavours is more pleasing than a hefty meal. I’d just been tasting the wrong things.

As I’m enjoying reading them, so I’m enjoying writing them and can feel a difference in how I’m thinking. Each draft becomes more focussed on capturing the essence of the story, rather than the whys and whats. My writing is very different to my first “official” attempts and I feel it is improving. Being able to feel I’m progressing is great. I’d like it to quicker but the fact that I’m persevering despite daily frustrations is something I’m pleased with.

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