Thursday, May 16, 2013

A writer's best friend

Last week, I drove to Penns Creek, Pa., to get a dog.

It was an experience: I left at 2:30 a.m., armed with an audio copy of a Don Delillo story collection, drove six hours down, stayed 40 minutes to get the dog, and drove six hours back to northeast Conn. all in hopes of having her at the bus stop when my youngest daughter walked off the pre-K bus. Mission accomplished. Now Edith (that was ner name on the Amish farm -- a little too formal for me: she's Edie now) has been with us for a week, and, as I've watched my three daughters with their newest sister, I've glimpsed many raw emotions: two-way unconditional love, joy, and even fear of loss.

This coincided with an assignment I asked my fiction-writing students to undertake. Select a situation, subject, or person from your real life, one that you think about often or even obsess about, and use it as part of a story; as Hemingway said, "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." Far from a groundbreaking assignment. Simple. Straightforward. Essentially, I'm asking them to write a story based on their lives. But these are high school writers. Turning real life into fiction is not easy. Many don't have a lot of expereinces from which to draw upon.

Coming up with a situation was hard for them. I understand that. (After all, I'm not sure how many things I obsessed over at age 16.) But, I told them, emotion shouldn't be. Everyone wants something and fears many things. In my explanation, I found myself talking, in a roundabout way, about the girls' new puppy, about the emotions that dog had instilled. How it felt for them when they first saw the puppy. The fear each girls has expereinced when letting it run loose for the first time. And we all know how it would feel to lose that dog.

These are raw, bone-scraping emptions we try to instill in our characters (or inflict them with) and even explore in our own psyches as we write. These emotion are a writer's best friend.


Toe Hallock said...

Mr. Corrigan: Doggies will have that affect on you, and your entire family. That's why they're so adored. About your Hemingway quote. Does he mean you need to do that with each sentence you write, step by step throughout? Or that, assuming the rest of the story is decent, you include a kernal of truth or revelation with that one line? I am asking for guidance because of my WIP. One of the major characters suffers from IPF, which is ultimately fatal. It is not the focus of the story. However, his niece, the narrator tells us that "Uncle Lloyd is nothing if not a stoic. That's the inner mind-set that keeps him going. For as long as he can will it." And that is why he is a P.I. after forced retirement from the P.D. Which I think summarizes his persistence. By the way, that is pretty much a true sentence since I myself am afflicted with IPF. When asked, I say "holding my own." Sorry. This is probably a lot more than you asked for. Great article. Yours truly, Toe.

John R. Corrigan / K.A. Delaney said...

Toe, Thanks much for the thoughtful reply. I have always thought of the Hemingway quote as meaning tell the truth, express the honest-to-God feelings you would feel in any givene situation. Hemingway said plot simply meant having what should logically occur next happen. Same vein, I think.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I find that I guard my emotions to meet with society's approval. It's probably not good for my soul.