Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Freytag Mountain.

These days, I'm reading so many books all at once that I think I've lost track of what exactly it is I'm reading. It's always a bad sign when life gets haphazard in this way. So what do I do? I pick up another book. Mostly, I do this when I write...or, more specifically, when I'm trying to write. I start looking towards outside sources for insight and inspiration...and it rarely works.

I've spent a large portion of the day staring at my computer screen and thinking of my former fiction professor, Will Weaver. Actually, I haven't so much been thinking about him as I've been thinking about him drawing story form diagrams on the chalk board--over and over and over. In hindsight, I appreciate the repetition of his simple lesson. Had he not drawn that line a hundred times I might not remember it now. I can't help but wonder how many times he drew it, the long upward sloping line towards the climax of the story and then the sharp fall of the resolution, in the course of his teaching career. His diagrams were based on the Freytag pyramid of conflict, rising action, crisis, falling action, and resolution; but Will had a way of making rising action look like the longest, windiest hill in the whole universe. I used to sit in class staring at the chalkboard and imagine myself trudging up a forever grassy incline, pulling the oversized red-wagon of my story behind me. I imagined that I could not rest for fear that my precarious load might roll back down to the bottom of the hill without me. Conflict, conflict, conflict, CLIMAX, resolution. It all felt so futile and difficult and depressing. My imaginings rarely made it to the top of the hill before mental fatigue would set in and I was forced to park my thoughts mid-hill with rocks wedged under the wheels while I waited for better weather or a tow truck that never came.

Because I was never able to successfully pull off the basic dramatic structure of fiction I, somewhere along the lines, simply decided that I'm not a fiction writer. Ok, good enough. I'm not a fiction writer. I write creative nonfiction and poetry. Well, ok...in all honesty, these days, I only write nonfiction. Fine. But the problem, I'm realizing, is that I STILL don't know how to climb the hill (or mountain!) successfully, enjoy a decent climax, and then smoke a cigarette afterwards.

My point is: in terms of narrative structure, the needs of creative nonfiction are not necessarily ANY different than fiction. Sure, there's lots of room for creative leeway (in any genre), but at this moment I'm standing at the bottom of the hill wondering which direction I should go.

I'm feeling stupid and amazed by how much I still have to learn about writing. And I know there will never be an end to it, but...


How does it work?


Anonymous said...

babe, what i think i love THE MOST about writing is that there is so much to learn, and basically, i've spent my whole life studying it. AND i want to do more.
i know i'm bad at certain things - or "less good" than i want to be. and you know what? don't care. just want to keep doing it. keep feeling for the words that feel good on my tongue as well as my fingers, keep chasing after "the flash". keep wanting to get lost in whatever i'm doing...
i checked out the freytag link. and all i can say is, "really?" since i'm writing a story this weekend (erp) i'll definitely give this a shot, or keep it in mind, but seriously, formulas like that depress me because they make writing so formulaic - which it's totally not. i mean, YES, it can be bulleted and stretched to fit on a rack but all writing possesses a SOUL that cannot be identified. all good writing, that is. think about joyce! do you think (even though i hate him) that finnegan's wake or ulysses or portrait had narrative structure...wait, don't answer that.
oh, god. i should have written you an email, shouldn't i.
oh well. ENJOY!
love you, you know.

Jessie said...

if there were two words that scared me the most they would have to be:
1. Linear
2. Structure

i'd love to see what a diagram of my usual writing would look like. ha! there would have to be a few zig-zags and spirals....but, really, sometimes i worry about losing readers in the randomness of my mind. i'm not trying to follow any formulas...but i AM trying to figure out where the hell i'm going! or something. :S ok...but i think you'd agree, that good writing takes frequent leaps of faith. hopefully i'll land somewhere that makes sense.

swampgrrl said...

Hey girl...

I love to hear about your inner
creative process.

do it your way. after all, someone first ventured out into the genre we now call creative non-fiction it never even existed as a recognized genre on the college scene until 1973.

so, as you so eloquently say, you have to take a leap of faith and trust that when you land something will make sense.

and p.s. i am also one of those several books at once girls.....

Anonymous said...

whenever i hear about the structure of "good" writing, i cringe...as someone who loves writing but has not chosen to study it in school or as a career, i feel so hopeless when i hear all of these "right" ways to do it...but i know in my heart it's not true...i know of too many people who just have a gift with words with no formal training whatsoever...

i love your writing, jessie. it is so clear, so genuine, and so real --
i don't think you could ever do it "wrong."