A colleague of mine at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival tells her students, “If you don’t know the shape of your story, begin by writing a bunch of scenes!” Scenes are the building blocks of narrative, and we’ll be hammering and fitting. We will also get very specific about setting (upstairs bedroom of a house that once served as a funeral home); time (exactly 11:17 a.m. on a Sunday in September); objects (a half-drunk cup of a Starbucks double-tall with lipstick marks on the paper cup); activity (a couple playing footsies under a particle-board table); and yes, dialogue (I’ll leave that to your imagination). Finally, we will explore what is at stake in each scene you write.
Reading: We’ll read aloud from memoirs, essays, and fiction, such as Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, which chronicles her relationship with poet Lucy Grealy. We will look at the scene where Patchett goes riding with her pal, and Lucy’s character is revealed by her behavior with the horses.
Writing: Beginning prompt for mapping a scene: 1) What does the “I” of your memoir, essay, or biography yearn for? Not only in the larger narrative, but in one particular scene. As Ann Patchett yearns to embody Lucy’s fearlessness, what specifically does your “I” want? His wife to actually listen to him this time? To use the bathroom? To play that drum set like never before—at any cost? Does your “I” want to tell her lover the truth about Daniel? Then, 2) What exactly gets in the way of this yearning?
Expectations: There will be a lot of writing in class. Based on what we’ve covered on Saturday, I will give a writing assignment on Saturday night. Expect to receive a PDF packet from me in the email before Sept. 12, which you will be expected to print out and bring to class.
What Else to Bring: 15 copies of a 1-2 page double-spaced scene you are struggling with now, if you have one; notebook and pens; and at least one question you do not know the answer to.
Can’t wait till September 12th at 10 a.m. in a house on 11th Avenue named after a poet.
Christine will teach “The Next Scene: Driving the Story Forward in Nonfiction” Sept. 12-13.