Tuesday night: outlines and appointments

June 25, 2018

Let’s talk about your stories and “Death of a Poet.” Look at how the story is put together. Notice the sections and the chapter titles. Why is the story written in present tense? There’s a good essay about present tense in the instructional readings in the right-hand column.

The writer makes a lot of good points about the uses and abuses of writing in the present tense thirty years ago, but the one I think that most applies to “Death of a Poet” is this one: “By writing in the past, an author makes a tacit statement about his writing (it resembles the world); by writing in the present he makes a tacit statement about the world (it resembles a movie, or a dream.”

The dream part is what I wanted. About three pages into writing I changed everything I had written to present tense.  Poets often use the present tense. Judith was a poet. It felt right.


We will set up meetings this week. We need to talk about your stories one on one if possible. By phone if necessary. I need to see the whole story in outline form. With subtitles. Meaningful subtitles.


Reading and an assignment

June 20, 2018

No class on Thursday. Work on the following assignments.

Please read my story “Death of a Poet” for discussion next Tuesday. I tried to bend toward the truth in this story. The great danger was in sentimentalizing her. I think I escaped that problem.

Get me a full outline of your story by Monday, June 25. We will discuss on Tuesday.

What do I mean a “full outline?” I don’t mean enough description of action and reaction, and time and place that I have (and hence you too) have a complete plan for writing. We’ll go over them to make sure you haven’t left something out or failed to anticipate questions. You may have an idea in your head but if you don’t write it down, the reader will be lost. You have to explain to the reader what happened. Don’t dramatize with screaming and dialogue. Explain what was going on. She did this and I reacted this way. What I reacted that way, she responded this way.

On Tuesday we will schedule individual conferences on your stories.




More from Ms. Adiche

June 20, 2018

What a wonderful discussion last night. Here is something from this morning’s NY Times. I couldn’t find it online, so I took a photo of the story, one of a series of excerpts from college commencement speeches. I subscribe to everything she says.


Diagram by LoRetter Brock

June 19, 2018

One observation: This diagram doesn’t start as late as possible. We should talk about what that means. The Santa Fe mother starts her story after she has found her daughter safe. Then she goes back to the morning when she gets the dreadful phone call from her terrified daughter. We should talk about starting late. And diagram in action and reaction. Don’t count on remembering what happened in 1996. Write down what happened.


Brock outline.jpeg

We are story tellers whether we write or not.

June 18, 2018

Here is an excerpt from a book review in yesterday’s NY Times.

Narrative is so central to the way human beings describe and understand their world that there is a whole branch of psychology devoted to it. Narrative psychologists have noted that by the time people reach old age the majority have organized their life stories in one of two ways: It all came to nothing in the end, one person might conclude, while another will claim that It all came together in the end. These story arcs are so common that they have been given names. The first is called the contamination narrative, the second the redemptive narrative.

This made me think about the kinds of stories people tell about themselves, and how the inner dialogues we hear can raise us up or pull us down. I remember when I was five and there was a freak snow storm in Houston and I was standing in the front yard and found a penny on the curb and I said to myself, “You are a lucky boy.” That story has stuck with me all these years, and that sentence still seems to resonate for me. But I wasn’t always lucky. I made some bad choices and had some unhappy times.

What I am thinking about is that we are all telling stories about ourselves, but how truthful are they? Or couldn’t there be a story about the conflicting voices we hear? Wouldn’t there be an action and reaction in that conversation?

Here is an excerpt from another story in the Times yesterday, about a war veteran who says his life was saved by books:

But one day, for some reason, I picked up “The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas” and found that the following oft-quoted lines of Thomas’s provided me with a moment of, for lack of a better word, grace: “These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.”

You may think that by using the word “grace” and including a quotation about praising God, I’m claiming that something miraculous happened or trying to smuggle in a religious answer to the universal difficulty of being a person. No. What spoke to me were the references to “crudities, doubts, and confusions,” for nothing came as close to characterizing what my life had become as those three words. I was, I thought, crudity, doubt and confusion personified.

For the first time in a long while I recognized myself in another, and somehow that simple tether allowed me to slowly pull myself away from one of the most terrifying beliefs common to the kind of ailment I’m describing: that one is utterly alone, uniquely so, and that this condition is permanent.

Notice how he is trapped by the thoughts he has, by the dialogue he hears, the creation of his despair.

We are story tellers about ourselves and others, whether we write or not.

Essay about depression

June 15, 2018

That was an excellent conversation last night. This morning the NY Times ran an essay by a writer about her depression. She talked about hearing a voice that was not really hers. Here’s the link.

You might also search the NY Times for recent stories about depression.


Tonight’s class: Your chapter outlines

June 14, 2018

You’ve got to have a plan in order to write. You’ve got to find words that describe what happens in each chapter. Most likely there will be action and reaction. Cause and effect. Feelings. Frustration. Disappointment. A blast of insight. I’m bringing paper. Let’s get this thing done. And then make it better.

The school story outline by An’Jonae Woodson

June 14, 2018


A title for the project and new version of chapter outline

June 12, 2018

I’m suggesting a title that came out of last night’s conversation about Amanda’s project: The Body Count. It’s full of nuance. She just sent a revised outline. Let’s discuss.

image.pngAmanda Dyson.jpeg

A pitch too long

June 12, 2018

Let’s go over Paul’s pitch and discuss what part of this pitch for a history is where he should begin.

Consider James Salter’s narrative about the war in Japan. Could this be applied in this case?

Paul’s Pitch