Writing Class Lesson 1.1
So the prof—Él Professorino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing— kicks off the old online writing class with four dramatic elements necessary to storytelling: Passion. Theme. Character. Premise.
- Passion: a strong belief. From the context of the course material, I understand this to be my belief, not my character’s. Hmm…
- Theme: the message to share with readers. Again, presumably my message, not my character’s.
- Character: the protagonist, whose personality serves as a vehicle to carry the theme.
- Premise: which begins with the phrase, “What if?”
All of a sudden, I feel I have no stories to tell. Because the stories I dream about telling aren’t about what I get passionate about. Like, I’m passionate about my kids, but I don’t think they’d make particularly arresting protagonists. I’m super passionate about telling the truth, but who wants to read a story about a prissy pants truth seeker?
How does this strike you guys? Does Él P. think writers want to write a good story, or just propagandize?
I feel like my homework is to shoehorn a passion and a theme into the story ideas I have. When what I really wanted to do was write.
“What is the controlling metaphor, the central image, the fertile symbol that directs your novel or is the source of its energy? It’s in there already, or it’s in your notes.
“It may even be your working title.
“In Louisiana Power & Light the utility company with its transcendent name served as my central metaphor. Mann and Hemingway used mountains as central images and all that their isolation, majesty, and dominance suggested. We all know about the whiteness of Melville’s whale and Harper Lee’s mellisonant and tragic mockingbird.
“So determine your central image or metaphor. Read all about it. Use dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, field books, Web sites, books of quotations, etc. The idea is to open up that image, discover all it’s possible permutations, connotations, and uses.
Is Life Like This?
You guys! I think it actually IS my working title. Just opened my eyes to a whole nutha vista of crap I can write about.
“You discover your themes as you write, and in doing so,
you might not even be immediately aware of what you have set in motion.”
Week 6 in the novel writing program (John Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?) was about themes.
Dufresne maintains that theme is not where you should start, because “it ought not to be propaganda… You have nothing to preach, but a world to explore.”
If you want to expound, write something else. Essays, articles, sermons– anything but a novel. You want to rant? “Save it for your blog,” he says.
If you can’t (or shouldn’t) start with a theme, then why is there an entire week devoted to it? Because themes emerge from the characters and setting as you write about them.
The prompts this week seemed to be directing me to explore my personal positions, but since I covered a lot of my own stuff a few weeks ago, I chose to answer the questions from my characters’ points of view. I wrote about:
- what each character believes to be true
- how they would respond if the opposite were discovered to be true
- how their jobs influence their world view, speech patterns, metaphors
- secrets they are hiding
- what might happen if those secrets were uncovered
- their fears
- their desires.
So I didn’t exactly follow the program, and it’s possible (okay, probable) that not much of the week’s effort will appear in the finished novel. It still feels like pre-writing. But I do see some themes emerging, and a couple of them really surprised me. That was kind of exciting, and a little scary for this semi-control-freak.
What will I write next? I have no idea!