Week 8 of my online creative writing class begins today and I had a d’oh moment last night when I realized that hey, I could have been blogging about the experience from the get-go. (Yes, I did sort of write about it here, but then…nothing.) I’ve been overcome with this hindsight feeling so many times since this blog began that it’s become sadly familiar. I like to think of it as the v8 Blog Effect–Gee, I could have had a blog topic!
Each week of the class has a different theme and prompt relating to writing, story development, craft. One week focused on story openings and first sentences; another, dialogue. When Week 5 hit, I was not feeling the prompt. I didn’t know what to write about, I didn’t have any ideas for characters or plot, and I made the mistake of reading a few classmates’ stories before I wrote mine. This totally intimidated me because:
a) They had gotten their work done so early that they had posted it before I had even started my story.
Perhaps their brains had more throbbing, intelligent veins than mine. Maybe they are genius schedulers who know how to prioritize and do not get sucked into watching youtube clips for hours. It’s possible that when they write, they don’t wail and pause the plot to type THIS IS SO STUPID or ACTUAL GOOD DESCRIPTION HERE into the Word document.
b) Their stories were Good.
Anyway, lost and bewildered but determined to turn something in, I ended up writing a pretty true-to-life scene of an encounter between me and a friend I lost touch with several years ago. This meeting has never actually happened, but I’ve thought about this friend a lot during space-outs and daydreams and had already imagined what it would be like if we ran into each other. Basically, the narrator of the story was me, and the friend she runs into was this friend from my past. Oh, I gave the narrator a few twists so that she wasn’t an exact duplicate of me–but the way she talked, the thoughts that floated through her head, her sense of humor–they were all mine.
I was perusing Ryan Gosling’s imdb page recently (I had just seen Crazy, Stupid, Love and had heard angels singing when he took his shirt off –so of course I had to be a creeper and look him up. See? This is how I get off the writing track.) There’s a quote from him–and it’s on the internet, so it must be accurate–where he talks about the characters he plays and how they relate to him.
All my characters are me. I’m not a good enough actor to become a character. I hear about actors who become the role and I think ‘I wonder what that feels like’. Because for me, they’re all me. I relate to these characters because aspects of their personality are like me. And I just turn up the parts of myself that are them and turn down the parts that aren’t.
This is how I feel about the characters I make up–thus, I’m pretty sure it’s a sign that Ryan Gosling would find me fascinating and familiar and probably witty and beautiful. Every perspective I write from, every character I try and create, has to have a little bit of me in them or else it’s like I’m swimming against a really strong current. (And I’m not a very good swimmer.)
That said, this Week 5 story character was so me–even with the little details I gave her that had nothing to do with my life–that I was basically writing a fantasy staring myself. And when I posted my words to the class board, I failed to consider what it would be like to read my classmates’ and teacher’s comments about a character that was me.
“You capture the subtle boredom and desperation and confusion in the narrator’s life nicely,” one person said. And I thought Huh, I guess I am subtly bored and desperate and confused…sometimes not so subtly.
The teacher was particularly interested in the narrator’s voice and sensibility. “She has a super high degree of self–consciousness,” he observed, “which leads her frequently to comment on and critique her own behavior. Lively, self–deprecating, ironic, rueful—the voice is at times all of these things, and it’s hard not to feel some warm feeling toward her.” Well, I’m glad somebody feels some warmth towards me. But aw man–am I basically characterized by a high degree of self consciousness? I wonder if everybody finds me insecure. Do they? DO THEY?
Another person suggested that I further establish the “unreliability” of the narrator. “I’m not getting enough subtext between the narrator and [the other character],” she said. She advised that I go ahead and acknowledge that the narrator’s memories of the friendship are significantly flawed and full of regret and doubt. Woah, this is getting weird.
It was a little surreal to read other people’s reactions to and interpretations of my personality and insecurities. It was like anonymous therapy with well-read therapists who majored in English. I read through all the comments on this story that could have been my life and I sat at my desk thinking about protagonists and writers, and art imitating life and life imitating art. I mean, wouldn’t it be weird/neat/interesting, if someone wrote an unfiltered “me” character and submitted it to a class just to see what other people thought about the hot mess of strengths and weaknesses that that person lived with every day? And actually, wouldn’t that make a great story? (DIBS!!! I CALLED IT! YOU HEARD IT!) It would be a little like the film Adaptation and a little like the recent A Midnight in Paris–one of the best movies I’ve seen lately, even if it didn’t include a shot of Ryan Gosling’s abs. But it also would be completely different. Get it?
Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the wheels in my head spinning.
If I had to define the lesson I got from Week 5 of this creative writing class, I’d say it was something about characters as reflections of authors/real people. What? I didn’t say I would define it well. Okay, I guess there’s also a lesson in there about the evolution of plot ideas. There, are you happy? Two (vague) lessons.
If any of you are working on writing projects of your own, I hope (but don’t expect) this was helpful. Really, good luck. If you’re like me, you’ll need it.