I feel like I’ve grown the most as a fiction writer due to some spontaneous decisions I’ve made. One of these was doing National Novel Writing Month on the first day it started. I made a split decision on November 1st to write a 50,000 first draft of a novel by November 30th. And I did it.
A more recent decision was to take an online class called “Fiction Writing Bootcamp.” The teacher was a fiction writer named Jeremy Shipp. I figured what the heck—the course only cost ninety-nine dollars and only lasted a month. I figured I had nothing to lose. I had just started rewriting the first draft of my novel with the working title of Aenigma’s Child and thought it might hone my fiction writing skills.
Shipp’s course was deceptively simple yet effective. For four weeks in a row, I received lectures and short assignments. Many of the concepts Shipp discussed I knew about, had already practiced in my writing. I always appreciate someone else’s perspective on a fiction writing concept I already know about—it helps me see it in a new way. He also introduced many new approaches. One of my favorite was using figurative language in characterization to say something about the character himself. For example the writer can use a metaphor or simile to reveal something about a character’s past:
“The perfume she wore reminded John of the fragrance of jasmine in the air of his grandmother’s backyard where he lived during the summers as a boy.”
Shipp talked about a lot of other fiction writing techniques that I had never practices or ignored because they didn’t excite me. But I’m happy to say I finished every assignment on time. I challenged myself to finish even the assignments that didn’t appeal to my creativity at first but ended up being the most enjoyable. For example, I had to write some cover letters to publishers. I was like “blah” at first, but ended up writing a proposal for my novel that I could actually use in the future once I am ready to deem it worthy of publication.
Just doing writing assignments I would never just do on my own brought out some surprising—and disturbing—passages. I assume most fiction writers do this: use people and scenarios from real life in the narrative. I take characteristics from two or three people I know with similar personalities and twist them into an amalgam creation.
Some of the short pieces of fiction I wrote had characters who represented me. I kind of scared myself in these stories. In one assignment, I murdered a character who pretty much represented a friend of mine. In another, I held a baby who was my grandson as the mother runs off never to be seen again. In another story, I jumped into the skin of someone I know and wrote a scene that could have happened in this person’s life. I started bawling when I finished. I’m still a little freaked out. It was like peaking into alternate realities of my own life.
I surprised myself at how the stories almost came to me fully formed and ready to be transcribed into assignments for an online class. Definitely not masterpieces of literature, but fun to write. Theraputic. Cathartic. Emotionally exhausting. I definitely needed to rewrite them, but they needed to be turned in. Poor Jeremy Shipp had to critique the raw issues of my mind.
I found Shipp’s critiques of my assignments helpful. No one wants to be told how much his or her writing sucks, but at the same time no one wants to be offered fluffy compliments that don’t really challenge a person to grow as a writer. He offered a balance of praise and suggestions. He pointed out where I needed to “show” rather than “tell.” Where I could have used more specific nouns. Things I know and have told my own creative writing students to do, but hey it’s easier to critique someone’s else work that one’s own. I will enjoy rewriting some of my favorite assignments for my personal edification.
Personally, I love what I wrote even though a lot of it stinks. Having fun was my goal. Can’t wait to continue rewriting my novel—I’ve already rewritten the first few chapters and used stuff I learned. I highly recommend this course. Go to his blog and ask him when the next one starts.