Monday, July 12, 2010

More on Getting Started: A Report from Tin House

I'm at Tin House Writers' Workshop this week, taking in lectures and workshops and cocktail hour. I have vowed to attend every lecture...except the one I'm missing now, typing away...

So far, my toothbrush has been stolen, the weather is blessedly cool, and I'm luxuriating in all this writing-talk and creative minds zapping about.

May I share a bit of what I'm learning?

Ann Hood, my workshop leader, says you must know the setting and the frame of the story before you begin. I'm okay with setting as a vital first ingredient--it seems natural that you have to begin somewhere specific in time and space--but I was really interested in what she said about the frame or the container of the story. This is basically the time-period of the story, be it a single afternoon, or a pregnancy, or a decade. But, she says, be specific: so-and-so's illness and eventual recovery, the summer so-and-so learned how to ride a motorcycle, the day so-and-so jumped off a bridge. I like the idea of calling it the container: it's the time period that holds the story.

Every scene should open with the setting and the conflict. Or, how she states it: We need to know where we are at the very beginning and why we are there. I love thinking of it that way. The conflict is our reason for showing up in the scene.

Stay tuned...

5 comments:

Kathy said...

Interesting. Like knowing the size and contours of the box you'll put the story in. Or is it the box the story comes out of? Thanks for sharing.

Tracy Crow said...

Yes, thanks for sharing this, Susan. Looking forward to more dispatches from Tin House. Enjoy!

jessica handler said...

Who steals a toothbrush?

Hey to Rob Spillman if he's there, and hey to Ann Hood, who graciously blurbed "Invisible Sisters."

Keep posting - I'm eager to learn along with you!

Jessie Carty said...

Glad you are having a good time! But sorry about the toothbrush :)

I need to learn stuff like this about writing fiction. I always find myself trying to keep the setting vague so that it could happen any place, anytime but perhaps that is why so many of my stories are just WEAK!

emilberry said...

I like this idea of container for a story too. Enjoy that cool air in Oregon. My husband and I were just in Oregon for the week, got back yesterday. What a beautiful and enchanting state and Portland, oh so hip.
BTW, I am reading Jewel, the most amazing voice and characterization. Have fun this week and absorb!