There were so many thoughtful comments about how to teach creative writing that I just couldn’t tackle all of them last week, so here are a few more I wanted to respond to. I also want to respond to comments about my post on How to Write Surrealism. So let’s get started!
Donna Caterina said:
My favorite writing teacher would be one who can identify my ‘voice’ then tell me when I am ‘off key’. I like to write memoir/travel and find that I do that better when I find and read authors that speak to me and hold my interest. This kind of reading helps me learn to tell the story.
I am so interested and glad I put this on my page.
Looking forward to this
Thanks, Donna, and thank you for adding Writerly Life to your sites! That’s another good point about good creative writing teachers — they’re not there to impose their style on others, but to help others refine their own styles. It’s important for me to remember that I shouldn’t let personal taste get in the way in my critiques — I must think about what each student needs to make her voice come through clearly.
As a regular reader of your blogs, I encourage you to take the same approach to your class that have with your posts. Be consistent to keep your students focused, be creative to keep them interested, and be open enough to foster healthy discussion and debate. The same principles that keep people coming to read your advice and opinions on writing, will be the same principles that keep your students engaged.
Thanks for the kind words, Justin! I do hope to be open and friendly on this blog while also be instructive. I hope to continue striking that balance in a classroom of students. For one thing, I’m only a few years older than my students — I hope they’ll see me almost as a peer, but will still respect my experience. After all, we’re all on this writing journey together.
Now let’s get on to the surrealism! In my post on the topic, I talked about how the best surreal writing is only one notch or two away from the very real. Readers had comments about their favorite surreal authors and how they manage to do it so wonderfully.
Mohamed Mughal said:
One of the best ways to learn how to write in a surrealist manner is to read surrealism that has worked for other writers. In Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut penned a celebration of the anti-hero, the story of an unwitting man who takes a winding, chronologically non-linear dash through the space/time continuum…Did it work? Yes. …Vonnegut effectively gave a new generation of writers permission to experiment. Surrealism works when it’s anchored in compelling, instructive and relevant themes, when it’s written with a larger point that the abstract beauty of surrealist prose.
Thanks for your thorough analysis, Mohamed! Vonnegut is certainly one of the modern masters of the surreal. What I find particularly compelling about his voice is the slightly sardonic but ambiguous tone — you’re never quite sure whether he means something or is being tongue-in-cheek about it. It’s also important as you say not to have surrealism just for weirdness’s sake. Surrealism should serve some purpose in your story, to teach or to match a feeling of being unmoored from reality due to disturbing events. What will your purpose for surrealism be?
Paul Bassett Davies said:
Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte were both surrealist painters but Magritte’s work is more disturbing. In Dali’s vision, everything is distorted. The paintings are visually stunning but all the impact is achieved on the surface. In Magritte’s work, everything is normal but one element is displaced, creating a sense of unease and dissonance. For me the best surrealist writing is like this.
Thank you, Paul, that’s a great point. This is exactly what I was writing about in my post — while Dali seems playful, free of malice, Magritte truly makes the viewer uneasy because of how reality is just a bit off. Dali’s images are a dream: Magritte’s are a skewed reality. That small touch of surrealism can often be more effective in a short story.
Thank you, commenters! Next week I’ll tackle What Makes Religious Writing?