1515 Race Street
So you have a story. You have characters you love. You have some talent as a writer.
Or maybe you have lived an exceptional life and you want to tell about it. Or you’ve lived an ordinary life, but you have exceptional insights about it.
You may even know what happens in your novel/memoir. But all of this gets lost in the slush pile unless you know one thing: What is your novel/memoir about? I don’t mean what happens in your novel/memoir. I mean what is it about? And how is that idea unique to you? True, there are no new stories. But the way your mind makes sense of the world is unique to you.
Let’s start with novels:
Take To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. What happens in the story?
- James wants to go to the Lighthouse.
- His father Mr. Ramsey, is pessimistic about the chances of that happening.
- His mother, Mrs. Ramsey, is optimistic.
- Meanwhile, Lily Briscoe wants to complete a painting.
- Somewhere in the middle of the book, Mrs. Ramsey dies and there is no preamble to her death and no drama after her death.
- In the following section, James goes to the Lighthouse and Lily paints her painting.
Sound like a page-turner? Probably not. And yet, a century later, we’re still reading it and talking about it. What the novel is about has the power to pull the manuscript from the slush pile. It also has the power to make the story last. It has the power to change lives as well as to tell a story.
Now for memoirs:
Let’s say your memoir is about your mother’s sudden death. Or let’s say you were not raised in the ideal family. Let’s even say that you went to Antarctica and had a hugely interesting adventure when you spotted a penguin thought to be extinct.
News: Everyone’s mother dies. Most people are not raised in ideal families. And you were not the only person to see that rare penguin. What is your story about beyond all that happens in it?
But about Novelists/Memoirists/Personal Essayists who are activists and who very much want to get across an idea in their work?
Writers who write with some kind of activism in mind usually do start out with an idea. The problem for them is that if they hammer that idea on every page, the only people who read the work will be people who agree with them before they started writing. The net result: your idea is not heard.
The challenge for the activist writer complements the challenges of the writer who has a potentially great story, but zero idea what it might be about.
In this class, we’ll grapple with all of these notions and learn how to make them work for us as we write in our own strong voices. This is a class about novels and memoirs that make a difference. And if you’re given the talent and voice to write, why not use it to make the world a better place–in some nuanced and artful way.
REQUIRED TEXTS: Theft, by BK Loren. OPTIONAL NOVEL: The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams; The Resurgence of the Political Novel by Karen Irr (Ask me.) OPTIONAL MEMOIR: Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart; Full Body Burden by Kristen Iverson;