Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Other People’s Writerly Advice Tip #2


Today's advice comes to us not from some old stodgy book, but from my former professor in grad school Philip Gerard. He gave a reading at the Museum today and will give a reading at the University tonight and stopped by my Intro to Creative Writing class between.

He told my students if they wrote down anything from the class it should be: "Backstory drives present action." He had interesting things to say about how we have to consider what has happened before the story to understand the present scene. I fear that when writers (even good ones) think about backstory it manifests itself in the present action through flashbacks that slow or stop that action. Or--worse--writers want to excuse present action on past events, the armchair psychobabble way. Oh, he was a bad guy now because he was sexually abused then.

I liked better when Gerard told the students to pretend they are movie producers with a set budget when writing a story. So they couldn't just have anyone say anything. You have to pay speaking parts more than extras, so if a character has dialogue that character should play an important role in the story. Don't build (describe) an elaborate set location if you're not going to have action occur there.

I only fear my imagination is impoverished, limiting my budget.

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