|Nearing final call for July OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS|
INKBLOTS—easy to write bad news, tough to write GOOD NEW. Six ‘Blots tonight (Rachel Haas joining us for the second time), a few tied up with finals and logistics.
Last week Doug Mc assigned us to push the refresh button and write something new. Like diligent students of the craft, hardly any of us did this, yet he remains patient with us all (we hope). Btw, libation: Indian Wells ’08, thanks John S.
Patrick led off sharing about some of his struggles with writer’s block, but on a deeper level: how to write the good? He finds it easy to be cynical, dark, portray the evil, but intensely difficult to find a redemptive voice, to write well and write the good. I feel like I’m hearing the integration of writing and life here. Here are snatches from his opening remarks: Increased knowledge in a fallen world means that, outside of grace and the maturity it produces in redeemed sinners, we misuse knowledge and artistic skills to glorify the self rather than to glorify God. So, how to write speculative fiction (space, horror, zombie, etc) to the glory of God. So Patrick is saying that we prefer to return to innocence rather than press on to maturity. This is quite a perceptive summation of what God is teaching him as he writes. Reading James White and Christian apologetics, shaping his ideas.
Patrick begins with a space station setting, female commander, on the horns of a dilemma, but one in which she knew what she needed to do (like most, or is it all, dilemmas?). Why the name Dogwood? It reminds me of Shakespeare’s Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. Good descriptive language; I feel like I can see most of what you describe. You mentioned pungent odor. Could you give specific smells to things? Are their electronic components overheating, sending the nauseating smell of burning wire insulation wafting around the control center. I was unprepared for the female angel with the sword mowing like weeds (a bit cliché). I admit that I have never been a fan of sci-fi so it is more difficult for me, not wanting to criticize genre (or expose my inability to understand it) more than your writing of the genre, to constructively comment. Jade zealot sounded like a scene from Revelation. She is not a divine being so John was okay with her giving up her sword. Doug Mc asked where it was in the story: the beginning. Bob says he is an old guy and it takes a while to figure out how things come together. Patrick assured us that at the end of the story the pieces would come together. Dave K commented that lots of what he reads is like this.
Bob is going to read a short story he wrote some time ago and entered in a writing contest (and lost) and then lost the story. This is his rewriting of the original story. Insofar as Tacoma has a heart—great line. Bob is writing to his strength here, humor the Rogland way, unaffected sophistication in a down-home, let’s-have-a-good-belly-laugh sort of fashion. Biker with tattoos, works of art that Michelangelo would appreciate. But let's see a specific, and symbolic maybe, tattoo. Avoid overusing what happened. Good use of bad grammar for your bikers. The dialogue with the tattoo artist little guy at the bar crying seemed a bit over written. Give us tattoo specifics. There was discussion about biker language, several of these chumps knowing far too much about the subject. Discussion of tattoos followed. Doug mc recollected that the one time his dad really yelled at him was when he announced that he was going to get one. So Doug mc has no tattoos--so he told us, but I didn't notice him baring his arms to prove it. Rachel shared with us about not having piercings (excessive ones) in her ears because she ran into a Pole (not a Czeck, not a Bulgarian, but a Pole). Book idea for Rachel. Through whose eyes are we experiencing the world? Not clear, though Bob explained that it would be the distressed tattoo artist.
John S read something fresh (he wrote it four years ago). Journalist coming up on hard times. Slight squeak. Use a simile, that sounded like a… He shoved his bag off… How about, Shoving his bag off his shoulder, he… then have him do something else. Beginning the sentence with a participial phrase avoids the subject-verb-object syntax trap. Avoid redundancy, opening biscotti package with his mouth and the help from his teeth; you don’t gain anything by this. Be concise. I don’t care what you think, Patrick—all in fun. We do care. That’s why we’re all here.
Dave here for the first time in a year! Welcome back. He read from the mountain trail assassination yarn (Patrick remembered this from over a year ago), a sequel to his other book, Brothers at Odds. Do you use italics for his internal thoughts in first person? You should. The story is in third person but with many first person thoughts. The newly engaged couple don’t seem very close, stiff and impersonal. Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Would she call her fiancée “Buddy-boy”? You seem to use little too much, little, little, little; use little just a little. Try doing a find and replace and use better adjective, or eliminate as not needed. Just as he was about to propose, Joshua (but it’s Steven the assassin) pops out of the trees aiming both guns at them. I was hoping for a better fight, you said twice in a few lines. The going into the thoughts of each character is confusing. Which one is Steve, which one is Bruce, which one is Joshua? Jumped out of the car and pulled a rifle from the trunk and shot the ranger.
Dougie Mc reads a historical comedy, the introduction. Post-Crusades-esque but mythical setting, but about 1270, twenty years before the fall of Acre. The Knights of Outremer, old battlefields strewn with bones and broken weapons—good tight description. Good description. It feels large, Tolkien-like. I keep wanting to see this through the eyes of one of the characters, a flesh-and-blood protagonist. Who is it? It reads more like a descriptive essay, a good one, but I need to know who of all this array of knights which one I should care about. Rachel asked what the over-arching purpose of the yarn is? Is it a critique of the Crusades? Dougie says no. Going to avoid the controversy. Why not intentionally offer another perspective to the politically correct dismissal of the Crusades?
I'd like to offer a brief answer to the title of this post, why we find it so much easier to describe a bad guy than a good one, why bad news sells more newspapers than good news, why portraying a gritty ugly character comes easier than an upstanding handsome one. Our portrayals of good guys so often are sentimental, unreal, out of sync with the putrid reality of sin and corruption that encircles and sometimes allures us in a broken world. The redemptive seems like the unreal world of super heroes, an escapist's world, not the way things actually are. In a broken world, marred so deeply by our sin and rebellion against our perfect, holy Creator, we struggle writing about the good because we in part are believing the lie that the eyes of sight sell us everyday. Cynics cannot write the best material (apologies to Ambrose Bierce), though they may make a good living trying, and make it on best seller lists. Why? Because it isn't the whole story. It isn't actually true.
Redemption is true. This is the great advantage of the Christian writer. We know the whole story. By God's grace we've been brought to know the truth that the bad news is not the end of the story, that the mud and grit of this fallen place is not all there is, is not what God originally created the world to look like, to be like. We know this. We believe this... well, most of the time.
There's the rub. Lord, help our unbelief. We will never write our best with our heart half cocked. What a tragedy when the professing Christian writer believes the literary elitist's imposed priorities, and contorts his pen to ape them, caving under the lash of critics, squandering his gifts writing about the slums of un-redemptive unreality. In our writing we can never rise above the lie that sin and ugliness is more appealing than righteousness and holiness until we truly believe it ourselves. And when we do we will never write sentimental rubbish and declare it Christian literature. The Christian writer writes with visceral longing for the return of the King, every sentence trembling with yearning, every phrase savory with wonder, every word pointing to the Word.