Friday, October 21, 2016

Write the Story @ Ferguson Library: Friday Optional Assignment for 10/21

For Tuesday's homework, I asked everyone to notice how Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" contains no flashback or exposition, and yet still manages to give us a sense of the arc of the characters' relationship—past, present, and possible future. It does this with just a few pages of dialogue and description.

This week's Friday assignment is an exercise: 

First, find something in your current writing project that you have conveyed using flashback or exposition. What does that mean? 

Flashback is where we jump from the story's present to a scene in the past. E.g. "It was six years ago when he had first walked down that dusty street, breathing in the dry air, squinting against the sunlight."

Exposition is where the narrative voice pops out of the present moment to explain something, without using scenes. E.g. "They had always been close, ever since they were kids, but after the fight last Thanksgiving things had changed, and now it seemed like she never visited or even called anymore." 

Flashback and exposition can have a place in a successful piece of fiction. We talked about this when we looked at Atwood's "Stone Mattress." But often the reader feels popped out of the story when the narrative flow is interrupted with explanations or news from the past. And too often we, as writers, are tempted to use these devices to get out of doing the work of figuring out the past's real impact on the present--on the actual story we're telling. 

So taking away those crutches can be a great exercise. For example, if you're not allowed to tell us--with exposition--that the characters haven't been getting along, then you have to show it--through their words, their gestures, what they notice, what they choose to talk about and what they choose not to say. In general, that is a lot more powerful.

This week's exercise is to look at that scene in your story where you've used those devices, and quickly note what information you were trying to convey. ("They used to be close, they had a fight, now things are strained between them.") Now set your timer for 15 minutes and write a new scene that conveys that same information (or at least some of it) while staying rooted in the present and in the concrete. That is, things your character can hear (including dialogue), feel, smell, see in the story's present.


No comments:

Post a Comment