On Puzzles

ana's bp picMy​ ​first​ ​year​ ​in​ ​a​ ​creative-writing​ ​intensive​ ​program​ ​came​ ​as​ ​a​ ​shock​ ​in​ ​many,​ ​many ways.​ ​Not​ ​least​ ​was​ ​the​ ​pure​ ​amount​ ​of​ ​writing​ ​we​ ​were​ ​instructed​ ​to​ ​complete,​ ​the​ ​way​ ​each piece​ ​came​ ​with​ ​specific​ ​mentions​ ​of​ ​goals,​ ​elements,​ ​techniques​ ​were​ ​were​ ​supposed​ ​to understand.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​been​ ​writing​ ​for​ ​as​ ​long​ ​as​ ​I​ ​could​ ​remember,​ ​but​ ​always​ ​sporadically,​ ​always on​ ​my​ ​own​ ​schedule.​ ​I​ ​liked​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​novels,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​and​ ​expand​ ​my​ ​characters, ideas,​ ​settings.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​idea​ ​how​ ​to​ ​write​ ​towards​ ​an​ ​intent,​ ​and​ ​especially​ ​not​ ​how​ ​to​ ​apply craft,​ ​to​ ​revise​ ​my​ ​piece​ ​and​ ​actually​ ​improve​ ​it.​ ​Writing​ ​shifted​ ​from​ ​a​ ​hobby​ ​to​ ​a​ ​confusing obligation,​ ​and,​ ​finally,​ ​a​ ​boring​ ​chore.​ ​Craft​ ​still​ ​seemed​ ​like​ ​a​ ​total​ ​mystery​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t understand​ ​how​ ​characters,​ ​plot,​ ​syntax,​ ​or​ ​theme​ ​worked,​ ​so​ ​I​ hated​ tinkering​ ​around​ ​with​ ​my words.​ ​My​ ​love​ ​of​ ​writing​ ​had​ ​fizzled​ ​away.

And​ ​then​ ​came​ ​Raymond​ ​Carver.​ ​In​ ​particular,​ ​his​ ​short​ ​story​ Cathedral.​ In​ ​it,​ ​a​ ​rather

obnoxious​ ​narrator​ ​has​ ​an​ ​awakening​ ​with​ ​the​ ​help​ ​of​ ​a​ ​blind​ ​man,​ ​whom​ ​he​ ​had​ ​spent​ ​most​ ​of the​ ​story​ ​despising.​ ​There’s​ ​this​ ​uplifting,​ ​brightened​ ​final​ ​scene​ ​in​ ​which​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​human connection​ ​moves​ ​from​ ​physical​ ​to​ ​nearly​ ​spiritual.​ ​While​ ​the​ ​story​ ​no​ ​doubt​ ​has​ ​many interpretations,​ ​to​ ​my​ ​fifteen​ ​year​ ​old​ ​self,​ ​the​ ​story​ ​got​ ​at​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ ​what​ ​it​ ​means​ ​to​ ​be human.​ ​It​ ​showed​ ​where​ ​our​ ​lives​ ​gain​ ​meaning.​ ​The​ ​structure​ ​of​ ​Carver’s​ ​story​ ​opened​ ​up​ ​to me.​ ​The​ ​detail​ ​choice.​ ​The​ ​characters.​ ​The​ ​dialogue.​ ​I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​comprehend​ ​stylistic​ ​and​ ​artistic choices:​ ​why​ ​an​ ​author​ ​makes​ ​them,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​they​ ​can​ ​be​ ​executed.​ ​My​ ​role​ ​as​ ​a​ ​writer​ ​moved from​ ​abstract​ ​and​ ​diluted,​ ​to​ ​understandable,​ ​with​ ​tangible​ ​elements​ ​of​ ​craft.​ ​Revision​ ​began​ ​to make​ ​sense,​ ​as​ ​I​ ​could​ ​connect​ ​the​ ​choices​ ​in​ ​my​ ​writing​ ​to​ ​how​ ​they​ ​built​ ​up​ ​a​ ​reader’s understanding,​ ​how​ ​writing​ ​could​ ​really​ ​impact​ ​a​ ​reader​ ​and​ ​illuminate​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​their​ ​life.

In​ ​response,​ ​I​ ​set​ ​about​ ​crafting​ ​this​ ​narrator.​ ​She​ ​was​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​a​ ​story

portfolio​ ​in​ ​my​ ​sophomore​ ​year,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​first​ ​where​ ​I​ ​sat​ ​down​ ​and​ ​outlined​ ​just​ ​what​ ​I​ ​might be​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​show​ ​the​ ​reader.​ ​My​ ​story​ ​had​ ​become​ ​a​ ​function​ ​of​ ​creating​ ​connection​ ​and​ ​intent, a​ ​fascinating​ ​puzzle.​ ​The​ ​narrator​ ​was​ ​a​ ​young​ ​child,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​pay​ ​close​ ​attention​ ​to​ ​every word​ ​she​ ​used.​ ​To​ ​convince​ ​the​ ​reader​ ​that​ ​they​ ​were,​ ​honestly,​ ​reading​ ​from​ ​a​ ​child’s​ ​point​ ​of view,​ ​everything​ ​she​ ​said​ ​or​ ​thought​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​believable.​ ​Her​ ​interactions​ ​with​ ​other​ ​children had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​realistic​ ​for​ ​children​ ​that​ ​age.​ ​Still,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​show​ ​her​ ​story​ ​in​ ​such​ ​a​ ​way​ ​that​ ​meaning could​ ​be​ ​gained.​ ​To​ ​accomplish​ ​this,​ ​I​ ​not​ ​only​ ​worked​ ​hard​ ​on​ ​voice,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​also​ ​used​ ​symbolism for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time,​ ​adding​ ​layers​ ​to​ ​objects​ ​or​ ​gestures​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​around​ ​her​ ​to​ ​communicate​ ​the experience​ ​she​ ​was​ ​having​ ​in​ ​a​ ​richer​ ​way.

I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​love​ ​writing​ ​again​ ​when​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​the​ ​blocks​ ​in​ ​my​ ​hands​ ​weren’t​ ​just

piece​ ​of​ ​wood,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​could​ ​be​ ​arranged​ ​in​ ​specific​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​build​ ​other​ ​structures,​ ​and​ ​that those​ ​structures​ ​depended​ ​on​ ​careful​ ​placement​ ​of​ ​every​ ​piece.​ ​In​ ​my​ ​other​ ​classes,​ ​I​ ​have always​ ​loved​ ​math.​ ​In​ ​a​ ​way,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​translate​ ​writing​ ​to​ ​more​ ​mathematical​ ​context.​ ​It​ ​doesn’t sound​ ​particularly​ ​exciting,​ ​or​ ​artsy,​ ​but​ ​writing​ ​only​ ​works​ ​for​ ​me​ ​if​ ​I​ ​see​ ​the​ ​work​ ​as​ ​a​ ​puzzle, a​ ​structure,​ ​a​ ​complex​ ​combination​ ​of​ ​separate​ ​elements.​ ​Then,​ ​I​ ​can​ ​set​ ​about​ ​solving​ ​the puzzle.​ ​Finding​ ​the​ ​best​ ​combinations.​ ​To​ ​love​ ​art,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​take​ ​it​ ​apart,​ ​and​ ​learn​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​the parts​ ​in​ ​my​ ​hand,​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​get​ ​distracted​ ​by​ ​the​ ​big​ ​picture.

Ana Shaw, Senior Editor-in-Chief

Exploring Poetry

marys-blogpost-picUntil my junior year of high school, I hadn’t given poetry a thought, or a chance. I decided that non fiction, was my first love, and felt it was my last. That’s the thing, I didn’t understand first loves, or last loves, and I’m not claiming I do now, but I do know that in order to love something, to love it hard, you, have to explore it, make the effort to understand it, and fully accept it for it’s truest form. Writing is no different.

I never expected poetry to so quickly grasp me in its arms, and shake some sense in to me. Before poetry I constantly doubted myself as a writer, I didn’t think I was deserving of that title. How did I know I was any good? Poetry on the other hand taught me, that its not always about being good; it’s about feeling. Non fiction allowed me to tell the truth, but only parts of the truth that I wanted to say, fiction allowed me to hide. I was surprised to find out that when writing a poem, every part of me fell on to the paper, and I didn’t know, until I was done, and there was no going back. Not only was I writing poetry, but I was exposed to so many great poets that year, Richard Blanco, Yusef Komunyakaa, Patricia Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, just to name a few.  Exploring poetry, and realizing that every word counts, made me a better writer when it came to fiction, and non fiction. Thats what I mean, when saying that in order to love something you have to explore it, you have to understand the mechanics, and the rules, and the reasons.  Now I can’t imagine a life with out poetry. Poetry feels like writing in its purest form. Writing that can’t be harmed by too much emotion, and the slow meaningful process of revision. Poetry made me believe in humanity, and empathy more than I ever knew. Poetry is life through metaphors, too beautiful to ever be ugly, but powerful enough to hurt.

A writing prompt that I constantly go back to, is one recommended by Patricia Smith: imagine the  person you have had the hardest relationship with is dead, lying on a marble slab in an empty room. It is your job to dress them, describe each item of clothing that you place on their body, describe the room, describe what it feels like to touch that persons body. This prompt will bring up emotions, you may need to feel, and helped me let go of a lot of things I held on to. If you attempt this prompt, don’t over think it, just go with what you feel. You can always revise later, but you can’t revise words you never put down.

-Mary Feimi, Co-Editor in Chief

Brevity in Flash

seth-januaryI love the word “brevity.” It’s quick and sharp but still flows well. It sounds like someone had the guts to let out what they wanted to say. It’s also the word Scholastic’s Art and Writing contest uses to describe flash fiction, and I’d say that’s accurate.

Before I got into my fiction “groove,” I struggled with word count. Regardless of the grade level, fiction pieces were supposed to wrap up at around 1,300 words. Usually, I grumbled through the revision process—why do I have to cut so much out? I’m barely exploring my world or my characters. What a waste.

I was stuck in description. I didn’t have a complete grasp on descriptive implication, so I just focused on things I considered interesting. For example, several of my freshman pieces mentioned their protagonists’ eyes. Who cares whether they were “seafoam green” or “warm brandy?” Details like that helped visual their physicality more, but interrupted narrative flow. I think I can chalk this up to my hesitance to go deeper. Until very recently, I avoided exploring my inner fears and insecurities in writing. I was scared of opening still-fresh wounds, so I hid behind flowing, unimportant images. Even when I had my first lesson and portfolio in flash fiction, I still fell back on layered-but-shallow imagery.

It didn’t work well, at first. The limit was 1,000 words, and my first draft landed at 989. It was below, but it personally wasn’t enough. I wanted—at the very least—to tell something which I felt didn’t suffer under word count. The result was something I was proud of then, sophomore year, and still see the significance of now. To break my trend of unfocused description (and, conversely, protagonists unwillingly distant from the reader), I limited character interactions to just the protagonist and his forbidden boy band love (go ahead, laugh). This was a significant step for me because I usually had the central character of my pieces interact with everyone mentioned. This limitation emphasized the most immediate, important “relationship” in the story. I also cut out all description that wasn’t observed by the protagonist himself, to ensure that every image developed an aspect of the setting, the conflict, and his character. Ironically, his homoerotic conflict intertwined with insecurity about his boring brown eyes, compared to the colors he sees in his band mates’ own. At the very least, I explored aspects of my own insecurities. I applaud myself.

Then sophomore year ended. When I started writing fiction again—in junior year—I felt myself regressing. My images didn’t interrupt anything. In fact, they usually contributed to development. However, all my stories were “safe.” Once again, they lacked personal truth. I look back on them now, and they are well-crafted, but when I compare them to my recent works, I’m not as emotionally affected.

That’s why I love flash fiction now. The form still expects masterful handling of craft, but in a way that gets down to an intimate immediacy. As a senior, I’ve written strong pieces that all—unconsciously—fall under 1,000 words. It’s this trend that helped me realize just how important flash fiction is to me. It emphasizes a direct approach, but not one that’s blunt. There’s still plenty of room for descriptive implication and explorations of plot, character, and setting. The brevity is there, and lets me be myself in writing fiction.

 

A prompt, to help others grasp the importance of flash fiction:

Explore the inner tension of a character as they carry out a single, pivotal action relating to the conflict.

-Seth Gozar, Fiction Editor