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.