the good, the bad, and the ugly about the writing life

Fiction 101: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered—Part 1

If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you with perfect certainty that I was never going to teach fiction writing. Sure, I was an English teacher who taught writing at the middle school, high school, and community college levels. Sure, I’ve got a Master’s degree in English. But, I didn’t think that I knew enough about fiction writing to teach it. Even though I’m starting my third novel, I feel as if I was still learning how to do it myself.

Enter Scott Cashman who asked me to teach a community education (CE in the vernacular) class called the Fiction Writing Workshop at Harper College in Palatine, IL. I said YES because it seemed like fun. Only later did it dawn on me that I might not have much to say about writing fiction. Shows you what I know.

As my students will tell you, I am afloat with opinions about fiction writing. I bring in books and quote those who are creative in their characters or dialogue or plotting. By the same token, I have been known to zing an author I’m reading who cheats with a stop-all-forward-momentum description or a deus ex machina plot twist.

And, at least once per class, I have to quote my go-to, fiction-writing guru, Larry Block. His fiction is exciting. His writing about writing fiction is insightful. And, he’s funny. Always a big plus.

Turns out that I know a great deal more than I thought I did about writing fiction. In fact, I’ve probably been waiting all 50-something years of my life to have forth on this topic. Which doesn’t mean that my students are always satisfied with my answers.

In fact, here are five points I make about fiction writing that often give my students fits:

1.            Absolutes lack imagination.

As I tell my students (ad nauseum, if you listen to them), fiction writing isn’t about absolutes. When they want to know exactly how many characters to create or exactly how many plot twists to add or exactly how many pages to write, I can’t tell them. “It depends,” is my standard answer. Because the answer can change depending on the genre of fiction you are writing or if you are writing a mainstream or literary novel without a genre.

Check in later this week for the other points I make about fiction that annoy my writing students no end.

5 Responses to “Fiction 101: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered—Part 1”

  1. mcwatty9

    Pursue learning as if you know nothing and you will eventually learn much more than those who initially claimed to know much.


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