In this chapter, “Fiction: The What, How and why of it,” Alexander Steele makes some compelling arguments related to the creation and process of creating pieces of fiction. One of his first messages is a simplified version of the definition of fiction: “in the broadest sense, fiction is simply a made-up story” (2). What follows, however, is a slightly more complicated, albeit narrow, definition that makes one think about the enormous possibilities which fiction writing allows for. Steele says that fiction is a “made up story told in prose with words alone” (2). It is almost inspiring to think of the ability words have to create a story, and how the combination of certain words can come together to make stories which have been told and retold since their original making. Fiction, Steele says, and I agree, is both a way to entertain our bodies and minds, but it also explores meaning and “our curiosity, and perhaps insecurity, compels us to explore continually the who, what, where, and when, and why of our existence.” It allows us to attempt to answer questions about our lives and mortality that would otherwise be limited by the confines of non-fiction, of reality.
Another point made by Steele is that although novels are long, like symphonies, it does not necessarily make them any more powerful than short stories or smaller works of fiction. I am often one to overthink the writing process and sometimes forget that it is not always about the length or the number of characters/events that make a piece of writing good. It is about the right combination of words and ideas coming together, regardless of the time period or geographical span. While the powerfulness of the work is not limited to the length, there is an interesting distinction between genre fiction and literary fiction. I have not written very many fiction pieces in my life, genre or literary but I have read both and the differences are revealed in the name; Genre fiction is more about entertainment, less about an attempt to express some aspect of the human expression like literary fiction. Yet, both can be influenced by occurrences in the author’s life. Steele also mentions how we can use our daily lives as sources of inspiration, even for fiction. He quotes Flannery O’Connor “anyone who has lived to the age of eighteen has enough stories to last a lifetime” (10). This is especially compelling because I often get stuck and cannot find a topic or idea “good enough” to write about. I tend to think that my life is too ordinary, too boring to include in my writing or to find sources of inspiration in, but Steele makes a point to illuminate the extraordinary ideas that can come from the ordinary life. I find this to be both a helpful reminder and useful piece of advice; when writing my own short fiction stories, I can use my own experiences as anything can be made into a creative, enticing idea if enough care is put into it.
He was a lonely sort of man, the kind that looks perpetually pissed off at the world. As though, through his years of living here, he had realized some depressing secret, had some grim awakening that pushed down the corners of his mouth and carved two deep lines into his forehead just between his eyes. I’ve seen him walking through town. He’s got a sort of limp, his legs seem heavy, since he swings them way out to the side to take a step.
When we were younger we would follow him, imitating the half-circle steps, shaking our arms out like he did. Sometimes his face would be locked in place, half of it numb or drooping. I think he saw us following him through the streets, laughing and mocking the inconsistent rhythm of his steps but he never said anything, never tried to punish us for lacking empathy. Of course, I didn’t know he was sick, didn’t know his body was deteriorating faster every day. We just thought he was a weird old man who was always mad.
One time, though, I saw him sitting on the bench near Grey Pond, across the small park that was plopped in the middle of the town, with a small toy. He’d pulled it out of his pocket, and just sort of sat with it in his hand. He was there a couple days later at the same time as me again, sitting there with the same toy in his hand, looking up at the sky with the same pissed off frown.
“I dare you to go and take it.” Charlie eyed me defiantly, challenging me to say no.
“You do it,” I retorted.
“Don’t be a wuss, it’s your turn. TAKE IT FROM THE OLD GUY” he yelled, laughing. My face grew hot and I turned toward the man. He was still sitting there with the small toy. I think it was a plane, maybe a boat. Charlie and the others taunted me quietly, waiting for me to move. I walked over behind the man, thinking I could grab it from around his shoulders and run but he heard me.
“It’s an airplane.” His voice was deep, gravelly, but soft and I almost didn’t realize he was talking to me. He held it up, his hand trembling so much that I could barely see what it was. The small plastic toy was orange, with a white nose and one long white stripe down either side. It looked like a normal airplane, the kind you see flying above you every day, just pocket-sized and orange.
“It’s cool.” My voice sounded distant, I was unsure of what to do but the old man stood up, slowly. He put the orange airplane back in his pocket and started to walk away, one big circle-step at a time. “Wait.” He turned and stood looking at me, with a face that was more confused than pissed off. “Why do you carry that?” The man almost smiled. I think.
“My daughter gave it to me.”
“Not here.” He sighed, slightly, and grasped the little toy plane again, shaking as he opened his hand. “I used to fly ‘em. Before I got sick. She’d come with me sometimes, up there. Her favorite color was orange. Like an orange creamsicle.” He shifted the plane to the other hand, trying to subdue the trembling. “One day, I’ll be up there with her, but this is all I got now.” And the old man put the toy back in his pocket, and picked up his feet, pushing his legs into circles as he walked down the path. I just stood there, not quite sure what to say. I didn’t even think he could talk.
A couple days later, walking back from school I saw him sitting on the bench. The small orange plane resting on his hand. His frown looked softer, his wrinkles less harsh, and I swear he smiled at me.
I decided to try writing 2 new pages because I was stuck on where to go with my other story. However, now that I wrote it I am not sure which one I would like to pursue. I think that it might be helpful to have both options, but I keep running into the problem of not having enough to say to continue the story. I need to either make the “new one” more exciting, have more drama so that it is more enticing to read or keep going with the “old one” in a way that would make it more interesting to me. I was thinking of either having the one about the candy store and the kid working evolve so that the narrator, who feels bored and stuck in the family business, especially since it has changed so much, make it out. She (or maybe he I haven’t decided on a gender because I struggle with a male’s perspective but don’t always want to write from a females) would then go on a sort of adventure and this would either give her a new perspective on life or she would somehow figure something out about herself. The other option is the man with Parkinson’s and the young boy and he would be telling him stories (and then one day not show up/die/something happen) and the boy would realize he has the stories still. The problem with this is that it could get difficult to avoid being too cheesy/cliché. I want to somehow do it in a way that’s heartwarming but I am not very good at writing anything humorous so I have to think about that as well.
I looked pretty. The bathing suit straps were loose and fell down so that they grazed my collarbone. I took each step carefully; I could feel their eyes staring us down as we walked through the aisles. The boy at the counter was cute, awkwardly staring but trying not to. I kept my eyes high, avoided making contact with anyone else. The air was cool from inside, brushing my arms and legs. I had to get Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream for mother. She’s having people over for dinner. The boy working the counter watches me pull the dollar bill from my bathing suit top, right from the middle of it. I think he blushed.
“Girls, this isn’t the beach.” The manager comes over, eyeing us with a look of disdain. I didn’t know why it was a big deal that we were wearing our bathing suits. We had just come up from the beach and my mother had asked us to get herring snacks. I am insulted he called us indecent. The A&P store is old, sort of crumbling at the edges and the workers are no better than me. My stomach feels exposed now, and I want to pull the straps up onto my shoulders but I don’t want to draw attention my face.
“Please have a seat, get comfortable.” The client looked around.
“Um, just there?” She pointed to the floor, furrowing her over-plucked eyebrows at the doctor, slightly raising the left one with a look of confusion plastered on her face.
“Where else?” The doctor smiled and pointed to the ground in front of him. “I like to lie down when I work. It helps us to really get comfortable so we can get to the issues we are here to discuss.”
“Uh, okay.” She sat slowly in front of him, hesitating to lay down, as though the floor was hot to touch.
“There. Perfect. Delightful.” He smiled at he again, a hint of something familiar and uncomfortable in his eyes.
“What brings you here?” She knew that he knew. It said on her chart, and she had been referred by the other doctor at the hospital.
“Well…” The floor was hard and uncomfortable, and when she moved her eyes to the corners she could see the doctor lying next to her, staring intently. She shifted away from him slightly. “I-I’ve been hearing voices. It started about a year ago but it’s getting worse.” She swallowed, it seemed to echo throughout the room. “I’ve been taking my meds but I…this one voice…”
“This one voice?” The doctors voice grew almost excited.
“It won’t leave me alone. Sometimes I can’t remember if it’s in my head or if it’s really someone talking to me.”
“Tell me about this voice.” When she didn’t answer he asked again. “What does he say.”
“It’s a she.” His excitement was disturbing.
“I don’t usually get a lot of female voices. What is she like?”
“She tells me things…like what to do, like sometimes she’ll tell me bad things…”
“Tell me.” He sat up and looked straight at her, his eyes wide and demented. “Tell me so I can take her from you.”
“What?” She sat up too now, her disheveled hair making her head look almost too tiny, trapped in the chaos of curls. “Take her?”
“I’ll take the voice from you. You see, that’s what I do. Take the voices people hear. I make them my friends; you see?” He tilted his head to the side, as if it was the most normal thing in the world for a physiatrist to say. “I’ll fix you. Just let me see her, hear her. I’ll take the voice from you.”
This chapter was especially interesting to me because I rarely use dialogue in my writing, mostly because I tend to write academic essays and less fiction. However, many of the points made are actually very important, and very true, having read a vast amount more dialogue than written. Amend states that “narration tends to have a dense feel, whereas dialogue—which reads quickly and offers a lot of white space—has a zippier feel…” (127). This is not only accurate, but it is an important distinction between the two devices as the use of one or the other, or the overuse, will change how what you are writing reads. Another interesting point made is the difference between a summary and a scene. Summary, Amend says, is like “telling,” while scene is like “showing.” This reminds me of something my middle school teacher would say: that it is important to show and not tell when writing.
Dialogue should also leave the reader with a more appreciative view of what has transpired. It doesn’t have “to show a cataclysmic moment for the characters, but the reader should come away from the dialogue scene with an increased understanding of the story” (129). It is therefore important to have the right amount of dialogue to summary so as to make the flow in a way which does not just read well but is read fluidly and with scenes playing out as images in the reader’s head. It is also important, when constructing effective dialogue, to capitalize on misunderstanding that are so common among actual speech. Sometimes, if the character reveals all that is complex about what they are thinking or feeling they are unable to effectively grip the reader and it becomes more like a summary and less like dialogue.
Two craft elements that are used in Ranch Girl that caught my attention include both the way that the author chose to write in second person as well as the minimal use of dialogue throughout the story. When an author writes in second-person it places the reader into the story, as though it is the reader doing the actions and feeling the emotions. When done effectively, the author can convey the feelings of each experience written about directly to the reader, as though he/she is the narrator. I would argue that the piece, Ranch Girl, uses second person effectively to communicate the feelings and experiences of the narrator. When Meloy is talking about the narrator’s decision to do worse in school, it is almost as if the plan is yours, the readers: “So you come up with a plan: you have two and a half years of straight A’s, and you have to flunk quietly, not to draw attention” (50). In this way, Meloy strategically puts the reader as the narrator.
The second craft element which I found to be an interesting was the limited use of dialogue. Though we were just discussing some of the ways in which dialogue is an effective tool when writing fiction, as it is more of a scene than summary and tends to lighten the density of summary, Meloy’s writing somehow still feels quick and light. I think in part it is because of Ranch Girl being written in the second person that the limited use of dialogue does not take away from the progression of the story and the narrator. However, Meloy does utilize some dialogue, and when she does, it is almost emphasized within the rest of the story. For example, when Carla is announcing her engagement she says, in quotations, “Dale’s never been to vet school…but he can feel an embryo the size of a pea inside a cow’s uterus” (53). This provides the reader with the notion that there is something important regarding what has been said because there are few times when a character is talking.
The very introduction of this chapter is convincing, as the story about the young 13-year-old patient claiming that she enjoyed reading because she “[gets] to meet lots of different people” is something anyone who likes to read knows. Some of our favorite pieces of literature (all genres) have the most complex, realistic characters. Realistic characters in the sense they are “substantial, authentic, [and] dimensional” (26). This is also something that is often lost when writing a story because sometimes characters and their whole individual stories are forgotten. Reissenweber emphasizes the importance of making the characters complex, that is not categorizing them into types, as otherwise they will lose their dimensionality. On page 29, Reissenweber labels the character Connie, who she is talking about, a “dimensional character, substantial enough to cast a shadow.”
There are a few qualities which Reissenweber deems to be important when creating characters who successfully move the story along. One of these is desire: “the grandness or simplicity of the desire is not important as long as the character wants it badly” (27). This desire helps the reader to identify and sympathize with the character, it will keep them (the readers) entertained. A lack of desire will bore the reader as there will be no driving force. This leads back into Reissenweber’s emphasis on the importance of making the characters’ complex, that is, not categorizing them into types as otherwise they will lose their dimensionality. On page 29, Reissenweber labels the character Connie, who she is talking about, a “dimensional character, substantial enough to cast a shadow.” This idea that humans have contrasting traits is also important when developing a character because it allows for a more believable character; bad guys aren’t always doing bad things, and good guys aren’t always doing good things. What is known, but often forgotten when in the act of writing, is the creation of complex characters, driven by a strong desire.
My writing process has been slow so far. I often have small bits of time where I begin to write but it usually takes me awhile to get back into the story which makes it difficult to make progress during these small little writing times. However, I have already revised the pages I do have as my idea seems to change as I sit and write. I was planning at first one writing about something more utopian or dystopian but when I started getting to the point where this would arise in the story, it became something else. I would also say that writing creative pieces has been difficult for me, I am someone who is comfortable writing essays and academic writing because that is all I have done for the past four years. Having to write fiction completely changes the way in which I think about writing, and the writing process. Instead of going about the construction and writing of the essay in a way that might be thought of as more methodical, it has been more chaotic.
It seems to me that I have trouble sticking to a plan or idea when trying to move the story along. Which, I believe is why I keep changing what is happening. As I write and get into it I can think of a storyline and continue it but often when I come back to it I have difficulty keeping the same idea going. I am not entirely sure what this will do to the piece but I do think that this is why we have time to revise and that if I can at least get an idea, whatever that may be, onto the page, I can go back after and fix the parts that may seem boring or forced. Overall, while I enjoy the ability we have to create whatever we want, it has definitely been a challenging experience.
The chapter on setting was interesting because I often forget about the importance setting has on a story. Though perhaps one of the most important aspects, it is easy to get lost in the story so that while you can identify what the setting is, you may not be actively thinking about it as a separate element. The setting impacts the reader’s perspective without them even realizing it; it becomes a background in which the characters you create live. It influences their decisions, creating who they are and this is integral when writing a strong story.
The chapter also mentions how, while the setting is very important, it is also important for it to aid your character and not the other way around. I think this is an interesting point as often it is something not thought about (at least explicitly by the reader).
I really like the idea you have here and I want to keep reading to find out what happens! I like that you included her parents in the hike as well because I think that has the potential to add some tension. I might suggest that you either take out the part where the narrator breaks the so-called “fourth wall” and talks to the reader or that you make it more a part of the whole story. It definitely has the potential to be a really interesting writing technique, but I believe it needs to be more prominent to do so. Another suggestion I have is making sure that you are “showing” more than “telling.” There are parts where I think you could really build and develop Lia’s character, especially when talking about past events. This would really let the reader want to follow her throughout the rest of the story as well as make her more dimensional; one way in which this could be done is adding her emotions and actions, even something little that might be a character trait. I do like the idea of the note, however, and I think this is a really interesting/tension creating piece. I am wondering how the note relates to the hike (which makes me want to keep reading) so I definitely think that adding that connection to the rest of your story would be beneficial. Overall, great idea and I can’t wait to see what happens!
Overall, I loved the idea and the way you executed the story. I think it was very creative and the topic is hilarious. You also kept the humor throughout the piece with the informal writing style and rather absurd things that happen. Though this can be difficult to do effectively, I think you managed it. In class we talked about the importance of the character having a desire to keep the story’s progression going and I think “Raging Ronny” had that. It keeps the story interesting and entertaining and guides the reader through it. I also liked the ending because it keeps the desire on something still present within the character, and it doesn’t go away just because the story is over.
The only suggestions I have are to one, make sure that the tense is the same throughout the story because sometimes it switches. Two, it might be beneficial to maybe go through and find parts where things might seem “rushed” or “forced.” I know that it’s difficult not to have occur when writing a short story, especially one like this where its multiple events (parties) only a few pages but it may help to build the character of Ronny a little more. For example, maybe giving some more info about the past/a story with his old friends or something (this is completely up to you, however, and I think there are multiple ways you could do this without losing the quickness and wittiness). It might be useful to elaborate on the last scene with the “wanted dead or alive” and “body bags full of the dead old people” appear because this seems to be an important scene as it ends with him heading to jail. Also, I might suggest making Ronny older than 47 (25 years after college graduation seems young to be going to a retirement home). Other than that I think it’s a funny story that reads well!
I found the peer review to be very helpful. First, my group suggested that I add more description to Kai and less (or maybe just the same amount but in a more equal ratio) to the setting. I also am not sure if my introduction is as quick as I want/need or if it slows down the story too much. They also suggested that I work on developing the girl who I introduce at the end of what I have up to this point. I think this could be interesting and is where I was planning on going, I just need to figure out what exactly should happen. One member of my group said she is going to work on free writing endings and I also think this could benefit me as well as it would enable me to just write and not overthink the ending. After I figure that out, I think I can go back through and rework the introduction so that it helps the paper and is not too slow.
I think this chapter is important because it highlights how valuable poetry writing is, as there is really no right way to go about writing one. As the writer, you get to choose what you say and how it is said: “There are no real rules for line breaks. Give the paragraph of prose to five poets and each might break it into interesting lines; but their versions won’t be identical (106).” I think this is especially relevant because often it feels almost overwhelming when trying to write a poem but instead of viewing it as such, it should be viewed as being open. It’s both interesting, and rather beautiful, to think that simply by adding or eliminating punctuation in certain spots, and buy utilizing certain words that sound certain ways, you can control the pace of your poem. Like music, poetry often has certain rhythms and beats, and though the writer does not necessarily have to use the traditional forms, the ways in which they construct their lines can have an influence the “sound” of the poem. I also think the advice to “write a poem that is an emotional outburst” is something that can be beneficial to a beginning poetry writer. As someone who has not written a lot of poetry (especially out of high school) I am often overwhelmed by what to write and how to write it, but when thinking of writing what I know (something we have talked about before), it makes it easier to begin.
What I don’t know
She said to me
Is everything and nothing
how different colors make me
Feel different things
how you look like yellow and orange
but sometimes make me see red
What I don’t know
She cried to me
is how you can be so warm and so cold
how even though you’re next to me
I can’t seem to touch you
What I don’t know
She whispered to me
One of the key points made in this chapter is that we live in a figurative world and thus when utilizing it within poetry, it is not something that is foreign: “our language and our thinking, our very perceptions, are metaphoric.” This makes the way in which we write also very figurative as often what is written comes from our lives and our sensations and perceptions. Following this is the idea that there are clichés, common metaphors and there are “good metaphors and similes.” What makes a good poet is therefore one that knows when they used “bad” metaphors/similes and when they used “good” ones. Another point is that the figurative allows a person to create and “access” images that otherwise wouldn’t be there: “take advantage of the vocabulary that accompanies your figure; exploit for its possibilities, so it adds energy and depth to your poem.” I think this also leads to a third point of the chapter, one that is particularly interesting, and that is the idea that metaphors are not always contained within the poem; “often entire poems work on a metaphoric level.” This is important to remember when writing a poem because it allows us as writers and as readers to (as mentioned above) access images that others would not be there.
He was as tired as an old grey sponge, soft and limp except for the dried crust around the edges.
Hot as the red-haired – but now it’s sort of burnt brown – Irish lady’s temper.
Waves unfurled like long slender fingers revealing a blue, swollen palm.
It was as disgusting as the sounds pigs make when they’re being lined up for slaughter; a constant shrieking, pleading, for help.
The child trembled like plates on the little white shelves in the kitchen when a big logger truck rumbled by.
The airplane rose like a loaf of bread inside a hot oven.
The room was as black as the inside of a sealed coffin.
He entered the room like he knew everyone wanted to take him to bed, with a swagger that made the women’s eyes linger just a little too long.
Their lovemaking was like a fish out of water; breathless, pitiful.
Imagery is important both when writing poetry and when writing other genres. It works to create scenes and recreate memories that affect people when they read it: “put simply…an image in poetry is language that calls up a physical sensation, appealing to us at the level of any of our five senses” (86). I think another interesting point made in the chapter is that images may be both literal or figurative and both ways are effective. Going along with this idea, though also an interesting point in itself, is the notion that everyone has a favorite sense and thus it is important, as a poet, to keep all five senses “on continual alert.” Another interesting point is that though images may be seductive, they are not merely scenes are scenery. Instead, they can “direct a reader toward some insight, bring a poem into an emotional pitch, embody and idea” (87). A third point made in this chapter is that “images are the rendering of your bodily experience in the world” (92). They allow us to convey as much as we can about the entire scene and feeling, the whole experience of what is being talked about to the reader.
The first interesting point in chapter 3, on revision, is the idea that often what is easiest is editing to remove what doesn’t work. The authors of this chapter note that: “Editing is one of the easiest and fastest routes to rewriting, simply because it’s often much easier to identify something that doesn’t belong: a cliché, an unnecessary adjective, a confusing or misplaced word, line, stanza or image. It’s more expedient to get rid of what’s not working than to figure out how to make it work.” I think this is important because it is often true regarding my own revision process; it is far easier to simply remove what does not fit than to change it so it does. Another important point is the idea that every writer, no matter his/her ability or experience, produces “garbage” at some point. It’s necessary, therefore, to be able to identify when your work is bad so that you can revise to its utmost potential. A third point that I believe is a helpful piece of advice, is the “radical surgery” suggestion. This states that at some point during the writing and revision process, especially if you are struggling with the revision process, is to find the line that is the “essence” of the poem. If there is no line like this, than it may be necessary to rewrite it so there is because form this line one can build the rest of the poem.