The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Week #1--For Writers!

So let's consider this the end of the first week.  What is your homework, if you want to be a published writer one year from today? Write a short story.  Yes,  even if you want to write screenplays, stageplays, or novels.  What I'm teaching is the craft of marrying plot to character, and linking plot to your intuitive grasp of life, and character to your intuitive grasp of human nature.  This goes beyond specific mode of expression, down into the core of the process itself.
Your story can be (perhasp should be) no more than about five pages long.  What is it about?  Well, what have we discussed over the last week or so?  A few movie plots, race relations, gender relations, the inauguration (gee, that rhymes!), the American dream, the flow state.  Combine any two of these together, and see what kind of ideas you get.  For instance: (and remember, these idea don't have to be "good"--they are practise.  And in general, quality, if it arises, will arise because of execution.  And as you write, your understanding of what the story was "really" about will evolve.  I'm coming up with ten ideas now, and not editing for "quality."
1) A girl's sorority under seige by a sexist male fraternity one stormy winter night.
2) A president who feels like a fraud and refuses to take the inaugural pledge
3) A would-be presidential assassin who is overwhelmed by the spectacle of a class of school children along the inaugural route, and changes his mind.
4) A meditator who achieves great bliss while his family suffers.
5) A husband and wife who each blame the other for the sad state of the marriage.  One is an alcoholic, the other obese.
6) A man and woman searching for love who learn to extend the same kindness and understanding that they expect for themselves.
7) A black bigot who realizes that he has more in common with white bigots than with loving people of any color.
8) A would-be writer who never finishes his projects.
9) A child who is being told everything in life except how to be happy.
10) A man who commits suicide as a final attempt to get his family's attention. (Try to figure out where I came up with THAT!)
Took me about three minutes to come up with those.  The trick is I didn't edit. 
Write your first draft.  Put it aside for a week, while you write your second story. In the third week, you'll re-write story #1 as you're writing the 1st draft of story #3. 

Get to work!


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