After a semester of genres that are new to many of us in Front Street Writers, we have finally reached the part of the year that I—and I’m sure many of my classmates—have been anticipating since September: the fiction unit.
Fiction—the genre I have written all my life. The genre I am used to. Anything can happen; you don’t need to worry about the terrors of journalism—getting details wrong and human interaction; you are significantly less likely to get caught in a tangled web of metaphors, questionable images and still more questionable rhyme schemes than with poetry; and fiction is fiction—you make it up—the title is not a cryptic oxymoron like “creative nonfiction.”
We are doing fiction and journalism simultaneously. Our teacher, Ms. Scollon, is setting up guest visits for our journalism unit. We chose the topic of teen mental health and identity, so our visitors will speak on that. Meanwhile, Ms. Berry is teaching us about techniques in fiction writing.
Fiction feels safe to me. I planned to write fiction as a career since I was eleven years old and wrote my first ten-page “novel” about a magical world in the sky. I ignored my grandma’s warnings that I would be broke as a novelist and continued believing I would write the next Harry Potter and travel the world, going on book tours, writing my oh-so-anticipated second book, and having plenty of money. I think most of us wrote fiction before we came to Front Street Writers, which makes it exciting and less intimidating.
In class, we talked about character desires and obstacles and how stories must change by the end.
Our first fiction assignment was to write a story in which a character was faced with an external obstacle.
Last year, I focused on a single story for much of the fiction unit. I wrote pieces of it for assignments and freewrote to develop the storyline in my spare class time.
Freewriting is a technique we learned to generate ideas. The only rule is that you aren’t allowed to stop writing. It doesn’t matter what you write, you simply cannot stop. If you did, the apocalypse would occur. This was nerve-racking when I first tried it, but it soon became vital to my stories. Without freewriting, I didn’t know where my stories were going.
Freewriting itself is not always neat. By the end of an hour of freewriting, my document would have devolved from sensible, well-punctuated sentences into a stream of questions—written in all caps—the answers to which would decide the fate of my characters.
This story developed in a time of emotional self-involvement and pity for me, and from my own emotional destruction were born the themes of sadness and unrequited love, as well as murder and death, which I obviously did not personally experience but thought tied in nicely with my own feelings.
This year, I was struggling to find inspiration. The open-endedness of the assignments opens up a beacon of possibilities, but it also presents a horrifyingly blank slate.
Luckily, in Front Street Writers you are never the only person trying to write. Twenty other people are there when you can’t think of ideas. I talked to a friend and found a character named Leah who was trying and failing to grow plants. When combined with an attempt at flash fiction I wrote in response to an Andy Warhol painting, it turned into the seed of a story I liked enough to write.
I still love writing fiction, but, after practicing other genres for almost two years now, it is no longer exclusive. It’s exciting to finally grasp something new and be able to do it well, or better than I used to. Realizing this has inspired me to experiment more with my fiction. I have some ideas for how to do this, which I will discuss in my next blog. Stay tuned!