ENG 162 Fall 2013

ENG 162 at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor ME, taught by John A. (Don't ever, ever ask!) Goldfine johngoldfine@gmail.com

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Week 4 Theme. Truth...or Consequences. Playing with truth, facts, and the area just beyond them

Part of your fourth week assignment is to take the assignment at the end of the lecture material and do it on your own blog.

The word 'creative' came up several times in the writers' autobios I'm seeing. Most people won't admit to being creative--and for very good reasons.Even I--and I have my creative times--loathe being told I'm creative. It's always a set-up and a put-down in the form of a compliment.There are practical people, there are hard-headed people, there are people who make things happen in the real world of adults--and then there are dreamy, touchy-feely goofybugs who come up with weird stuff and the grownups smile fondly, pat you on the head, and say, 'Isn't he creative!'Isn't he a hopeless but harmless jerk is what they mean!

And it gets worse.

Once you're tagged with being creative, it's your job to come up with the themes for the Christmas Pageant and the Prom. You have to write the skits and the funny songs, and, God help you if they're not creative enough to get everyone to come up to you afterwards to say, "Oh, you're so creative, I wish I could write like that."Because if they don't come up, you just fell short and your reputation is on the line: be creative, on demand, by command. You're not much use for anything else, are you?

So, don't be holding your breath for me to comment that something is creative. Not a word in my teacherly vocabulary, unless I know the person very well and think they can handle a little irony. Doesn't happen much. I wouldn't use it, except ironically.

And in the world of schools, 'Creative Writing' is short-hand, like basketweaving, for a big frill, something only for the lazy, the half-cracked, the black turtleneck crowd.So, why is the darn course called 'Creative Non-fiction'? I named it! I could have called it, "Writing Non-Fiction Using Techniques Traditionally Found in Fiction.' But that's a mouthful, and as I was coming up with a title, everyone kept calling it 'Creative Writing' which made me writhe.

So I started answering back, "No, Creative Non-fiction." And they would repeat it back, like a two year old testing out a tough word. "Creative Non-fiction?""That's it," I'd say.

So, don't worry about the creative part. It just means that if you want to use dialogue, scene-setting, narrative suspense, or other odd techniques , you have a license.And the line between fiction and non-fiction?

Fiction always contains non-fictional elements, and vice-versa. Here's a passage from my response to the first prompt about being alone in a room: "Maddie the Collie is flopped in front of the cold wood stove, so I'm not quite alone. A kitchen chair lies across the couch, just to ensure that Maddie stays on the floor, no higher. But Chloe the Malti-ShihTzu is squeezed down at one end of the couch, just avoiding the chair legs."

Let's do a fact/fiction check-up. Maddie is a collie and was lying in front of the stove. There was a kitchen chair on the couch. Chloe is a Malti-ShihTzu. Chloe was NOT on the couch squeezed in the way I described.Actually, she was on a chair Maddie is also not allowed on. I changed that detail to offer my reader the chance to create an amusing picture in his mind if he so chose. Chloe often does just what I described, but didn't happen to be doing it when I looked around.It sure doesn't matter to Chloe if I fib about her whereabouts. Something like this just improves the moment. And the writing. I got 'creative'!

What would be a problem would be this: "Maddie the Collie is flopped in front of the cold wood stove, so I'm not quite alone. A kitchen chair lies across the couch, just to ensure that Maddie stays on the floor, no higher. But Chloe the Malti-ShihTzu is squeezed down at one end of the couch, just avoiding the chair legs. Maddie looks up, sensing that Chloe is getting something she can't have and I hear a low and slow growl begin at the back of her throat. Chloe whines and I hear her toenails click on the floor as she scutters away from the larger dog's anger. Maddie readies herself to attack...."

That is not shading the truth. It's just lie after lie. The difference is that the second version gives a wholly wrong impression of what I saw and heard. The first doesn't.You may disagree! That's what we're here to play with in our writing: that shadow area between fiction and non-fiction, the one people like to call (God help us!) 'creative.'

Your assignment for next time (and it goes on your own blog) is to write about something in your own life.

1. Write about it as close to black and white, just the facts as you possibly can.

2. Then write about it so that the basic facts are there, unchanged, but you throw in a little fancy stuff to improve the story--you make the girl a blonde instead of a brunette, you add a few horsepower to the engine, you buy a few more dollars worth of clothes than you actually could afford--all this done, not to lie, but to make the truth sharper and, if you will, even truer.

3. Finally, start with the same material but let it off its leash. It originates in fact, but winds up as fiction. Now the details aren't changed to tell the truth in a new way--they're just pure fiction.

Later addition: I was reading a review of a memoir by Elie Weisel called 'Night.' Ruth Franklin, the reviewer, is talking about what writers do to memories and facts, and she makes some of the points I want to make in Week Four:

"Like any memoir 'Night' must balance between absolute fidelity to the events and the making of literature. Its poetic austerity comes at a cost to the literal truth.... [N]o memoir can be at once an unerring representation of reality and a genuine artistic achievement.... Wiesel recognizes the memoirist's dual obligation--to the truth, certainly, but also to tell his story in the most interesting, most memorable, most meaningful way possible.... [T]he memoirist must have the liberty to shape his materials into a work of art."

That's not a license to make things up and lie; it's a demand on you to see that your raw materials are just that, raw, and, alone, will not answer.

25 Comments:

Anonymous reetplus3 said...

I've read this several times, first thought,ugh, but now it may be okay. Not sure about stretching the truth!

Sunday, February 06, 2011 3:46:00 PM  
Blogger johngoldfine said...

Ugh??? LOL! My assignments make my students wanna puke? Great!

Sunday, February 06, 2011 4:03:00 PM  
Anonymous reetplus3 said...

I have to say, after doing a rough draft of this assignment, I AM LIKING IT! Love to stretch the truth in the writing. My husband read it, and said "What the hell?"
Hope it is up to par with you.

Sunday, February 06, 2011 7:10:00 PM  
Blogger emily said...

Sounds like this is right up my alley! My boyfriend always tells me "Emily, stop over exaggerating." I can't help it, it just makes it that much more interesting when telling a story! :)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Rebecca C. said...

This will be an interesting theme this week. I usually tend to tell facts and what things are at face value and I rarely exaggerate things or events. So this should be fun to be able to turn on the opposite side of my brain and just let the story take me where the words lead.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011 6:18:00 PM  
Blogger Kristie Grant Canfield said...

Creative as defined by Merriam Webster is as follows ": marked by the ability or power to create : given to creating
2: having the quality of something created rather than imitated : imaginative "
I don't see how this could be a bad thing. If ignorant people choose to use the word wrong, then that's on them.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

This assignment sounds fun. I like exaggerate my stories! It always makes them sounds way more interesting.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 3:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Derek P said...

This sounds pretty interesting. Not sure I'm exactly excited about it. I kind of like playing with the truth, I have been told I'm a good liar. We will see if that helps at all.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger HillNicole said...

I find it interesting how you can start of with nothing but the whole truth and stretch it so far that it becomes completely fiction. I also liked your "breakdown" of the word creative and how it is sometimes a put down for people.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 8:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Morgan said...

I once watched an episode of family guy where Stephen King was sitting down to propose his next novel. Stephen answered, "OK, for my 307th book, uhh, this couple is attacked by, uhh,(Looks around the room and picks up lamp) A LAMP MONSTER! BOOOOO (Flailing lamp around and arms)"

Agent, with cigarette hanging out of mouth, "You're not even trying anymore, are you?
King, continuing to poke lamp at agent, "AHHH, AHHH OOOOO!"

Agent, sigh, "When can I have it?"

NOW THAT, is creativity at its best.

Friday, February 11, 2011 9:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Zoe Little said...

I've read this twice so far....but about to go back for the third time. Not too excited about it, but hope it goes more smoothly than I'm expecting.

Friday, February 11, 2011 8:45:00 PM  
Blogger johngoldfine said...

Sounds funny, morgan.

Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Johnson said...

I'm pretty good at twisting facts so this should be pretty easy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011 5:38:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan G said...

As someone who likes to have a pretty fair amount of facts in my story, I think it may be difficult to convey false facts in my story. However I will try my best.

Sunday, February 13, 2011 8:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Zoe Little said...

first, we tell it how it is.
second, we add in a few details and spice it up.
third, we completley have fun with it, "take off the leash" and run with it?

Hoping I have it down right, here we go..

Monday, February 14, 2011 2:39:00 PM  
Blogger johngoldfine said...

You've got it, zoe.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 8:49:00 AM  
Blogger Erin M said...

Of course, after my week 3 failures I would come on here to see this assignment. Note to self: Stop stretching the truth, Erin. Stop using so many metaphors that people don’t pick up on. Stop building yourself a dream world where you can say anything you want and have it make sense to you. And for the love of God, stop ignoring the point of the assignment. Whoopsie. I’ll get on that.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 4:41:00 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I like this one.

Saturday, February 19, 2011 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger darci said...

Should be interesting writing while stretching the truth!

Saturday, February 19, 2011 3:37:00 PM  
Blogger johngoldfine said...

Awww, erin, I understand your metaphors--at least I understood Wormy and Wormie!

Sunday, February 20, 2011 9:26:00 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

After reading some week 4 theme's that others posted in their blog, I had a better idea on what it was that you may be looking for. It took me a little while to finally decide on a topic to write about though. I feel like I have a boring life. HA!

Monday, February 28, 2011 5:03:00 PM  
Blogger RJ Perry said...

I just re-read my posts for week 4, I had a lot of fun doing week 4! I know I did because I actually remember writing them! (A surprising feat for me, sadly...)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 9:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jade Daigle said...

This is going to be tough. Getting started. Something in my own life? just the facts? what to do? :/

Saturday, September 15, 2012 9:55:00 PM  
Blogger Jared said...

Firstly I want to say I like this idea for an assignment, its almost a way to test the boundaries of fictitious writing while still staying inside the perimeters of a non-fiction piece. However I would like to say I feel your rant when people call you creative...is a bit cynical.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 6:31:00 PM  
Blogger Jordan Larrabee said...

I had fun writing these! I keep thinking of more things to add to them as more time passes. I had to think a little bit on the truth potion because I really wasn't sure if I wanted to hear the complete truth from some people. but I got over that hump and I am liking them so far!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 10:08:00 PM  

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