We are still in the throes of the fiction unit, writing our stories and exploring fiction in Front Street Writers.
In class, we discussed the difference between text and subtext, subtext being that which isn’t specifically stated in the text but which the reader either catches on to or wonders about.
We looked at six-word stories. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” It took a second before we saw the subtext. Why were they never worn? The obvious conclusion is that the baby died, but there are endless other possibilities. Maybe an estranged relative sent their five-year-old nephew shoes meant for a three-week-old baby. We tried writing our own six-word stories and discussed those. Mine was, “You wanted to meet them, right?” It was the best I could come up with at the time.
Continuing to study subtext, we read the story “Hills Like White Elephants,” also by Ernest Hemingway. Reading this story was the most simultaneously confusing and intriguing experience of my life. I won’t spoil much of it, but if you don’t want to know what happens, avoid the next paragraph.
This story is almost entirely a conversation between a man and a woman, which I found interesting. They continually reference a mysterious “it,” which is never clearly identified. For me, it was never remotely clear what it was. But there were just enough details for me to keep trying to figure it out. Among other vague information, we saw the man call it “a simple operation” and learned the girl didn’t want to do “it” but wanted the man to be happy. We theorized in groups about what this meant. Some theories were: they were getting an arranged marriage, they were planning to rob a train, or the girl was getting a medical operation. None of our theories quite worked, and eventually Ms. Berry had to tell us what it was. I won’t give that away.
From there, we talked about what made this story compelling: dialogue. I always struggle to write dialogue. Good dialogue moves the story along and effectively shows interactions between characters. Can you say “easier said than done”?
Our second fiction assignment was to write a piece in which a character faced an internal obstacle.
While talking to my sister about story ideas, she mentioned “growing up.” This reminded me of a time I felt like I was growing up too fast and being flung without consent from the comforting world of sleepover parties, free time, and “not knowing any better,” into the unprotected adult world of drugs, the planning of murders, and the need to take responsibility for my own actions. I decided to fictionalize and write this story. I included the details that I specifically remembered, like the true-crime show that got me thinking about the psychology of murderers, but changed some details—the main character hadn’t seen her best friend in a year, for example, rather than just a few months.
I wanted to focus this piece on one specific moment, building on an idea that was inspired by stories I was reading in and out of class.
While re-reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith this year, I realized something which sounds like common sense: stories made of detailed moments are more compelling. I have often found myself trying to write how the relationships between characters develop and what “happens” but not focusing on why these things change. In one story, I wrote that a character named Henry slowly lost control of his life and convinced his friend, Jezebel, to kill his mother, but this was not as compelling as if I had described the moment he handed her the gun and she accepted it because she loved him. What did each of them say? How did she feel?
I resolved to stop trying to fit novel-length plotlines into four-page assignments, and instead write about the sort of moments you would want to run and tell someone, be it your best friend, the nearest cop, or your diary.
As I mentioned in my last blog, I want to push myself more with fiction, as I am excited in this class to learn new writing skills. While many genres are new in and of themselves, fiction is not. I want to experiment with it more, so it can be new for me too.
I have decided to write my next fiction piece entirely using dialogue. This may be torture for me, but it is necessary, and clearly it can be done. I’ve been encouraged by my teachers to take risks with my writing. This is a risk I will take. With any luck, I will write more purposeful dialogue because it will be the only thing I can write.
Despite being afraid to rely on dialogue, I can always revise. Grades on assignments in this program are not final until the end of the semester. Until then, we can revise to our heart’s content.
Basically, I will not call this piece done until the dialogue is strong enough to support the entire story. Wish me luck!