Today is brought to you by green tea and Placebo
(Hah! It's young Brian and old Brian!).***
I have heard and read that people can process what they learned at Clarion and Clarion West for a least a year afterward.
I completely believe this.
I just had a revelation. I think. =)
During week six, our instructor was Chuck Palahniuk. He was wonderful -- kind, gentle, loving. And he truly does believe you are a special and unique snowflake, unlike anyone else. I adored him. He's a beautiful, beautiful man. And he has a lovely speaking voice. (And, as you read on, you'll realize I've been lazy here and haven't followed Chuck's lesson I discuss below. We'll have to cope; I'm in a hurry.)
One lesson he tried to teach us, which is not only useful for minimalist fiction (of which Chuck is a practitioner) but for all fiction, is the concept of specifics. I may not be calling it the right term (I'd have to double check my CW notes), but let's run with that.
Chuck would say that a writer telling the reader that a character is 6' 5" doesn't tell anything. It's not specific. Telling the reader that someone weighs 135 pounds doesn't say anything. Telling the reader that someone was 36 means nothing at all. But when one adds context and fits the character's qualities and characteristics in with their life and the rest of the character's lives, suddenly so much more meaning can be implied and inferred.
From Amy Hempel's "The Harvest":
"The year I began to say vahz
instead of vase
, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me. "
In this one opening line Hempel tells the reader so much about what is to come in the rest of the story. The section "The year I began to say vahz
instead of vase
," tells the reader a huge amount about the character, so much more so than if she'd said, "The year I turned thirty-two...".
Just chew on that for a bit.
During his week, Chuck kept telling us that one of our classmates, Kristin, was pretty (and she is) because she has two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth. Several of us responded with, "What the hell does that mean? Of course she does."
But today I realized I think it's about specifics. I could be wrong, and I hope my classmates call me on it if I am (and I'll tell you if they do), but I think he was trying to say, "Be specific. Be detailed. Kristin looks like most other folks; most folks have two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth, but Kristin is pretty because she has her
two eyes, her two ears, her nose, her mouth. Show the reader what that means for Kristin, show the reader what this means for the other characters. Tell the reader about the year Kristin started calling a vase a vahz.
I'm still processing. This is really starting to make sense to me. Does this make sense to anyone else?*** This is the text of Hempel's "The Harvest"
. One could spend a lot of time dissecting this story. Hempel is brilliant.