Lessons from a Prose Class (Or, What I Learned in Writing School IS…)

Categories Blog

At the end of my first official prose writing class in college, I took away two things I wanted to do with my writing.

Be bold, and Be mysterious.

The first thing was decided after I read a short story for the class, titled A Real Doll. It is a story about a teenage boy who, um, has a relationship with a Barbie doll. A relationship of the between-the-sheets sort. I hated that story. After reading it I was tormented for weeks, and even now, three years later, I shiver when I think of some of the images painted on the page. But, you know, it did something so daring and gross that in a way it was a bit beautiful. There’s something about that raw kind of honesty that, despite being fiction, really shows the truth of the world we live in. No one talks about what happens behind closed doors, but we all do really weird stuff, especially in our formative years. To see it so blatantly described was a shock to the system, for sure, but if it has the power to make me think about it years after reading it, it must be pretty powerful. By writing about the weird junk in our lives, even if we never seek to publish it, I believe we can unlock something in ourselves, making what we create real.

Be mysterious. This one is a little tougher to lock down, because I can see it, when I read, but I have so much trouble doing it. What is it about stories, literary fiction, sure, but just really well written pieces that makes them so… you know, well written. I went to school for this and I still have trouble deciding. Artful dialogue? Well placed metaphors? Effective use of run on sentences? Whatever it is, it creates a work that is… cloudy, so to speak. Making the reader work a little harder to figure out what is going on. I like that, like reading it. In contrast, my own writing says, “Here is what you need. Do with it what you will.” The short stories of Raymond Carver flow in a way I want mine to, and they say a lot without revealing too much. After reading them, I had a mantra, “Be Like Carver.” Or, at least, write like him. I want to keep the mystery alive, apropos since I write mysteries, but I want to do it in a way that isn’t frustrating to the reader, as they wonder why on Earth I’m comparing, say, groundhogs to the state of the union.

Be bold, and be mysterious. Too often writers censor themselves, afraid what others might think. But when I picture myself and other authors at the drawing board, I want us pulling our hair out in frustration, scribbling/typing away, a feverish look in our eyes as we’ve simply just got it. We should tell the truth, and be artful with it. Honest artists, so to speak. I read something the other day that said, basically, anyone can write about a tiny dragon sitting on a person’s shoulder and that will be a nice image, but a great writer will talk about it crapping down her back and that will make the image real and beautiful (I think this is a Game of Thrones reference – I don’t read the books, but I saw a picture of one of the main characters with a dragon on her shoulder). I’d like to be a writer that shows the crap.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *