In writing class today, we played the composite story game. Most people have done this at some point in their lives. Each person in a group starts a story, then every few minutes, you pass it around and then write a few sentences on someone else’s story. Eventually your story comes back to you, having gone totally haywire. Here’s my story:
Billy Bob couldn’t believe his ears. He leaned over and turned up the radio. Had he really just heard what he thought he heard? “Astonishing news this morning!” the announcer said. “We just found out that
Canada’s army has mobilized against the United States of America. Hockey-stick related injury reports are streaming in. It is speculated that the attack is indicative of Canada’s long-standing envy over America’s ‘really cool flag.’ A statement issued by the Canadian prime minister read:
‘Eh, we will trow all our best rocks and sticks at them until we can drive them away, yah? Too bad we have excessively strict gun laws which prevent us from properly defending ourselves.'” Just then, an alarm rang out signaling
that Joe should wake up. “Damn,” he thought. That was a good dream. It had been awhile since that dream; he loved it every time. Just then his wiener dog Max came into the room and peed on his new rug.
“YOU LITTLE BASTARD,” Joe screamed. He got up immediately and cleaned it up. Well, time for work I suppose, he thought. Maybe I can pick up where I left off tonight with that dream.
And there you have it. A truly brilliant act of literature, yes? Well… it could use some copyediting.
Anyway, the point of the exercise was to get us to think about different styles of writing. We went around the table and talked about how each person’s style was different, and how you could tell that from the story bits each person had written.
It is always a bit disconcerting to have someone appraise your writing style. Writing can be very personal, and we can be very touchy about it. I learned this very well working at my college’s Writing Center: you handle a person’s writing the way you would handle his ego – gently.
All we did today was say “I think so-and-so is a humors writer/soap-operatic writer/dark writer.” Not so bad, eh? But a judgment nevertheless. My writing was judged to be “nice,” that is to say – I spent my story fragments trying to lighten the mood. We had bunny rabbits with PTSD, man-eating fat boys, homicidal casino workers, and hands stretching up through pavement cracks from the depths of Hell. I guess subconsciously, I was trying to keep the tone light. I wanted to be entertained, not depressed.
So yeah, it was probably a fair assessment, and none too damaging to my ego. But it made me think about how I perceive myself as a writer too.
I know my role as an administer of my writing club: I am the one with the light touch. I am the one who is overly-sensitive to member feelings and the one who wants everyone to be happy. Clubs need people like me to protect the members from people like eq4bits, who I’ve seen leaving comments here. 😉 Clubs need people like her to help the club as a whole survive people like me, who would probably let everyone get away with twinkidom. As Shawn said during class today: “You bring balance to the Force.” Thanks, Shawn. You get points for that one.
But what about me as a writer? I have flashes, now and then, of seeing my writing from the perspective of others, and I find it very strange. Like a mini out-of-body experience. Am I always a fluffy writer? I wondered today. Hmm. Let’s see.
I just cracked down on J.K. Rowling for disclosing the imperfections of her characters. I said I wish she’d left them ideal. That doesn’t bode well for me.
My own characters are interesting enough, I think. My primary character is a young woman who is my age but very different from me. She is ambitious, where I’m a big fat sheep. She has difficulty maintaining relationships, where I think I’m pretty easy to get along with and I’ve found the love of my life. She’s been accused of murder, she’s transfered men to other places for selfish reasons. In the end, she’s a good leader, and at least she isn’t a twinky.
Hmm. Writing her up like that, she doesn’t sound very interesting. I have plans for her to fall madly in love with a man she can’t be with. I’d like her to develop some enemies. In the past, I’ve written some stories about her that have made people cry (or so they told me). I think I’m pretty good at that. I make myself cry a lot, but I’ve mentioned before how easy that is.
In the end, I guess that means my writing isn’t all roses, which is just as well. We had one member who we nearly ran out of the club for just that reason – too much positive and not enough conflict.
I suppose it is situational. Though my musings apply primarily to fiction, a predisposition toward the positive can come across in non-fiction too. Look at the perfume the government sprays all over its announcements. Oh, nevermind. Not a good example of non-fiction. But there are ways of writing letters, ways of addressing people, that are more light-handed than others. And I guess, as already mentioned, I do specialize in that. I think it is usually effective and easy to swallow, but I suppose there are times when you just need a hand from hell to come and tell it like it is.