Monday, February 17, 2014

Another entry from Joan's workshop exercises

As Joan further developed her character, she wrote:
Jan pulled back on the yoke of the aircraft and climbed to cruising altitude, resisting the urge to point the nose of the plane at the ground below. It wasn't a new feeling, but it was getting stronger. She fought against it by concentrating on the blue sky and the horizon and began to feel the joy and the freedom that flying always engendered.

She had only soloed a few weeks ago, but she still felt the warmth and pleasure when Scott got out of the plane and told her she was on her own.

"You're a natural, Jan," he had said. "Fly the pattern a couple of times and then go have fun." 

She smiled at the memory. She could still feel Scott's hug when she finally landed. She would miss his presence in the cockpit, but she cherished this new feeling of freedom and independence.

As she thought about Scott, sh compared him to Brian—the man who was so much like her father, although she didn't realize that when she married him. The divorce had been a relief, really, even if it did mean she had to take the teaching job she hated. How different Scott was—gentle but strong. He didn't seem to think she was an idiot. "Your a natural," she said aloud. What sweet words.

I love how Joan turned the memory of a bad experience into the beginning of a story that has a complex character and the potential for development of an intriguing plot. She didn't continue the story, as she was unable to attend all of the lessons, and because her life was very busy at the time, and she had other stories underway. But I wanted to share this much of her creative process. With her permission, of course. When she gave me the boxes of her saved writing assignments and essays and beginnings of novels, she said I could publish any of it as I wished.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Joan's creative writing: Lesson on POV

Continuing from yesterday's post, I want to share what Joan wrote when asked to take the antagonists point of view from the humiliating experience she had in third grade. She could have chosen Susie, but wisely chose the teacher.  Here is what she wrote in two short timed writing.  The first, "take the point of view of the antagonist."

Miss Harlan had had a very bad day. She had so hoped to be hired for the high school position only to learn that one of her male colleagues had won that prize. 

She really didn't like little kids. She particularly disliked the shy mousy ones. When little Susie Castle told her that Joan had stolen her beads, she was furious.  This was exactly the kind of junk she had no time to deal with. Susie, however, was a pretty little thing, and her father was on the school board. Before she thought it through she had confronted the frightened little mouse in front of the whole class. knowing that was wrong just made her more angry at the weeping child. 

The next assignment: Using the same character, give them a passion. Something they care a great deal about. Joan wrote:

Janet Harlan erased the board and put away the books on her desk. She was still shaken by her own behavior this afternoon. 

"How did I ever get into this profession, anyway?" she asked herself. 

She knew, though. It was her father who had insisted that she major in education, totally ignoring her protests that she wanted to be a pilot. She recalled all the arguments—that the world always needed teachers—she could get a job anywhere—she would be respected. 

What she really hated was that she had lacked the courage to stand up to him. She had always been so fearful—so mousy. 

Tears welled in her eyes as it dawned on her why she so disliked the shy, fearful girl she had humiliated today.

And so "Janet Harlan" becomes the protagonist for a story that continues through out the workshop.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Memory from Childhood

As I look through the many essays, stories, and writing assignments that my sister left me, “for whatever they’re worth” I see a treasure trove of excellent writing and rich story-telling skills. An imagination backed by a close empathy with humanity that comes from not only experience, but also from a close observation of human nature. Joanie paid attention, and her intuitive understanding of people made her a master at characterization.

Today I picked up the workbook she wrote in when taking a writing class that I gave in Colorado several years ago. Here is the anecdote she wrote for lesson one. “Fiction is a Lens on Life” The instructions were to look into your memory and chose an incident in which you were embarrassed, humiliated. or had your feelings hurt by another person. This is a timed writing. You don’t have time to plan ahead or revise.

By the way, I’m only sharing this because Joan gave me permission. Customarily, anything written or discussed in any of my workshops is strictly confidential.

Joan remembered an incident from early elementary school that stayed with her for the rest of her life.  She wrote:

I was so excited. What a beautiful bauble! I hadn’t had that much luck lately, what with the hard time, Mom and dad in the mountains and me spending my third grade year with strangers. Now I’d found the pretty necklace in the dirt on the playground. I showed it to Susie, thinking it would surely elevate me in her eyes. She looked at it briefly and said nothing. The bell rang and I noticed Susie whispering something to the teacher.
“Joan,” the teacher said sternly, “Susie tell me you stole her necklace. Is that true?”
I felt my face flush as everyone stared. I was terrified. I thought I might wet my pants. There wasn’t a friendly face in the room.
I fingered the necklace I had put around my neck and looked at my shoes.
“Come up her,” the teacher commanded.
I couldn’t move.
She approached me and removed the beads from my neck. “Susie, is this your necklace?” she asked.
I stared in disbelief as Susie said, “Yes, It is.”
The entire class looked at me in disgust. I felt smaller and smaller and hoped I would just disappear!

A subsequent lesson from the workshop is on Point of View, and in order to get back into the realm of fiction, as well as to get writers thinking from a perspective other than their own, the exercise asks the writer to take the antagonist from the exercise above and get into that person’s head. What might have been going on to provoke the behavior that caused so much humiliation?  In the next post, I’ll share what Joan did with that assignment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Is Life?

(These are thoughts that came to mind as I remember not only Joanie, but other friends who've had struggles and disappointments, friends who've lost loved ones. Life wasn't always easy for Joan, especially after the cancer hit, yet, she carries on with dignity and hope, sharing love, light, and laughter with those around her. This is just another raw rhyme that came to me as memories of her and others and my own past tumbled through my mind.)

Joy and pain
loss and gain
    life is such a mixture.

Love and hate
hurry and wait
    searching for a fixture:

a solid anchor
lost in rancor
    when wedlock lost its bliss

Marriage and divorce
a ship off course
    What warning signs did we miss?

Hope and despair
When life's unfair
    We stumble on unmarked trails.

Dreams of perfection
dashed by rejection
    And the wind is gone from our sails.

Yet, time marches on
and we carry on
    learning, we hope, from our errors.

Happiness and sorrow
yesterday and tomorrow
    Life is much more than our terrors.

We focus on fun
and victories won
    instead of looking back with regret.

Blessing and trials
bring rueful smiles
    And we don't give up just yet.

Some dreams have come true
With others still due
    When we come to the end of life

Give thanks for the good.
Close the door on the "should"
    As we ask, "Was it worth all the strife?"

The answer lies deep
in the secrets we keep
    May we answer with a resounding, "Yea!"

The good times were rife
but what guided our life
    Were the lessons we learned on the way.

(by Janet Muirhead Hill)