Today we discussed the concept of want vs. need, as illustrated in our hilarious homework reading: "Guy Walks Into a Bar" by Simon Rich. I set a timer for five minutes and class members brainstormed about whether this might apply to their main characters, and if so, how.
Then we did the "Nine-Minute Movie" exercise from Viki King's How to Write a Movie in 21 Days. This is not (obviously) a book about how to write short stories, but King's straightforward discussion of plot can be an incredibly helpful jumping-off point as you think about how to structure your narrative: how to make sure it has focus, forward movement, change, and stakes.
To see some of these principles at work in a literary short story, we looked at Margaret Atwood's "Stone Mattress," which I read from in class today. I asked everyone to finish reading it at home if possible (an optional assignment) and to look for the ways in which she draws the reader through the story, raising questions (starting with the very first line) and making us crave the answers.
In the context of this story, we also discussed the issue of "likeable characters," a perennial topic of discussion in writing classes. Is this protagonist likeable? Would you want to, say, be friends with her? Be married to her? Probably not. Does the character work? Yes, because she's three-dimensional; she's human, with buried pain, desires and plans, flaws and skills. (Even if some of those skills are a little . . . murder-y.)
For homework, we'll be reading three people's pages for workshopping next Tuesday. I also urged everyone to finish a draft of their story. Sloppy, rough, quick, highly imperfect: all fine! We still have time to polish them. But try to get that super-rough first draft down this week.