Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Monday, 04 June 2001

I woke up at 6:00, even though that was only about six hours of sleep. (That is a normal time for me to wake up, I just usually go to bed much earlier.) I had set my alarm for 7:30, because I could use the sleep. But, since I was up anyway, I got out and went for a run. I ran along the river as far as the Spartan statue at what I assume is the main entrance to the campus, and then back again. It was about a mile and a half, maybe a bit more.

In class Steven Barnes has been covering exactly the next thing I wanted to work on: plot, the bones of the story. It is the area in which I'm most conscious of my own weakness, so it's great to be able to work on that first. He talked about several descriptions of the structure of the story, ending with Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. It was all good stuff.

Steve made several points that really worked for me. One thing he did was talk about a continuum of plottedness arranged as a triangle, with traditional plotted stories at the top. One of the other two points he labeled "mini-plot," by which he meant stories where the plot structure had been pared away, merely implied or even omitted altogether. The other he labeled as "anti-plot," by which he meant stories where the plot structure was deliberately deconstructed and then assembled in a way that was different enough that the reader could only reassemble it if he or she were so familiar enough with plot as to be able do the writer's work. Then he pointed out two things. First, as you move down the triangle, away from traditional plotting, you loose readers. People like plotted stuff, and not everyone has the tools to fill in the omitted bits in the mini-plot or reconstruct the disguised structure in the anti-plot. Second, most people (even those with the knowledge to be successful) won't read a non-plotted story, unless it is by a writer who has produced so much good work that they are confident that this one will be worth the effort. So you can't start out writing these things. You have to start out with plotted stories.

We got another stack of stories to critique. Again I was up until nearly midnight finishing the critiquing. However, I took a nap, and I'm feeling much better.

I managed a tiny bit of writing both yesterday and today, but not much new stuff--mostly I'm just working over what I'd written before I came. I need to give my own writing some time and effort. That means giving it priority. I don't want to cheat my classmates out of good critiques, and I don't want to cheat myself out of the practice of doing good critiques. But I need to get back to my own writing.

One of my submission stories was critiqued. I was very pleased. My prose was universally declared to be transparent. Aside from that, people had some trouble with the story, mostly in the same areas, so I know what needs to be fixed. There were several different suggestions about ways to fix it, some quite contrary to others. I could get two or maybe even three stories out of those ideas. The level of the critiquing is amazingly good, even great.


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