Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Learning to dance...

No, of course the MA in Creative Writing is not about learning to dance. But I think getting used to each other on the course forum is a bit like that.

There is a lot of forum work involved. We each write three or four pieces of 500 words each per week, then have to comment on each others. As we're not quite used to each other yet, and it's very difficult to suggest tone on any Internet forum, there is a lot of dancing back and forth involved. We're all gauging, I think, how to give each other constructive criticism without causing offence. I seem to find myself apologising or explaining myself a lot, so obviously I need to work on that! I must admit it has led to a bit of a wobble, but I'm not about to give up. After all, we're all there to learn and improve and we can't do that just by saying everything is perfect. I should stress that everyone on the course is very nice and supportive. I think it's only me who worries about whether I've given offence or not. It does occur to me that maybe if I stopped apologising for my opinions, they might carry more weight...

The activities are fascinating though, and are making me look at my writing in a very different way. So far we've played with the idea of building characters, using their deepest secrets and appearance in order to suggest their personalities. This week we've done some work on point of view. We had to combine two characters, one from Andrea Levy's The Long Song, and another from Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. Levy's character talks in the first person, whereas Lahiri's story is told in the third person, about a taxi driver called Mr Kapasi. We had to put Levy's unnamed character into Mr Kapasi's taxi and write about her from his point of view. I must admit I struggled with this. I struggle with cultural appropriation full stop, and honestly feel there are people who do it much better than a middle aged white woman from the Peak District whose only three trips out of the country include Germany, Spain and Venice.

The next activity (which I'm actually avoiding by writing this blog post) is about consistency in point of view. We have to write about something we own or a place, first in objective terms, i.e. a white house in a field, then in subjective terms, i.e. ugly white house in a field. Then write in the first person about a character who disagrees with our opinion of the place/object, then change it to third person.

Even though I am only writing three or four pieces of 500 words per week, it is impacting on my other writing, mainly because of all the forum time. I imagine this will settle down eventually, but as we're marked on forum work, I don't expect that to happen anytime soon!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Technology ... Arrgggghhh

The first proper day I'm able to devote time to study and the OU website has crashed. I managed to respond to and post a couple of forum posts, but it was grinding then. I guess that everyone has had the same idea as me. Kids are back at school, spouse perhaps at work, busy weekend ended (in my case) so let's get down to it.

So I thought I'd share my beginnings here, with you good people. We've done two tasks so far. One was to choose a favourite beginning and the other was to write three different beginnings to a story, either using some novel openings we'd been reading or a favourite story or our own. I chose to write my own.

When it come to favourite openings I was torn between two. The first was:

Everybody has been at me, right and left, to write this story, from the great (represented by Lord Nasby) to the small (represented by our late maid-of-all-work, Emily, whom I saw when I was last in England. ‘Lor, miss, what a beyewtiful book you might make out of it all – just like the pictures!’)
And the second was:

This is a story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve. 
As I read them, I realised that, despite the different tone, they're actually similar. They both begin by stating that the narrator is in fact telling a story, and whilst on the second one it isn't clear, both are in the first person (although interestingly the narrator of the second one often refers to himself in the third person).

I shan't give away what they are, but if anyone has any thoughts or feelings on them, don't be afraid to share.

Then we had to write three opening sentences. I'll share mine here with the remit at the top of each. I don't say I've nailed it. I only offer them up as an example of the work I'm doing (excuse the formatting).

·        Making a startling or arresting statement of fact.
I didn’t intend for Beatrice Taylor to die. I suppose it’s fair to say I didn’t do much to save her either. I saw an opportunity and I took it, as I always have. 
·        Offering an invitation to the exotic or particular world of your story.
She pressed her face against the window of the saloon. Inside she could see the flickering lights and hear the musical meeting of fine crystal and the soft whisper of satin and lace. If the women were not quite as beautiful as they should be and the men not quite as handsome, she did not care. One day, she vowed, I’ll take my place among you.
·        Taking the reader in medias res – the action has already begun. This may mean beginning with dialogue, in the midst of a conversation.
“Do you really think I look like her?”

“Yeah. You’ve started doing your hair the same, haven’t you? Not sure it’ll work though. She’s a lady and you’re definitely not.”

 The nails diving into his bare flesh, and the foul language she used, proved him right. He didn’t mind. He liked her just as she was, ragged nails and all.

Maybe it's something you'd like to try yourself with a story, to see if you can find the very best opening. I already know which one I'm going to go for, but won't say so here.