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Wearing fresh clothes (thank you, United, for delivering my suitcase), I headed off to class this morning. I drank about six chai teas to drown out the desire to fall asleep in class since I was basically up at 5 AM my time. Here are the highlights of the day*. If you have questions, email me at corrinelj at gmail dot com.

Student Orientation: Typical taking-care-of-business meeting to review the syllabus for third semester students.

Lecture: The Expanisve First Person: The Omniscient I
Julie Brickman, Lecturer
A first-person narrative appears limited by its “I” nature, but writers are pushing the boundaries every day. Some tips:

  • A third-person narrative offers a wider pan lens on your story. Since you are not inside your character, it invites more distance between the character and the narrator. You can also play around with that lens, starting wide (as if your character is viewed from the heavens) down to looking over your character’s shoulder
  • A first-person narrative has far more reliance on voice is limited to the world your character observes
  • There are ways to expand a first-person narrative that allows description without the tone of the narrator slipping through. Example text: The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus. The author slips in descriptions that could easily be read as third person in between the more “I” focused descriptions/references. You can email me for examples.
  • This more distant tone has to be consistent if you are utilizing it across multiple character POVs.
  • Why do this? It gives the narrator more freedom to move between time periods. It also lends a tension to your narrator’s voice as you move from a wide lens (discussing a town’s history of slavery) to narrow (your narrator’s view on slavery).

Lunch by Genre: We met with the students and faculty members in our genre – Fiction. Our faculty briefly told us about their passions and their current WIP. The students graduating this residency introduced the topics they will lecture on this week.

Lecture: Le Mot Juste—The Right Word: A Grammar of Vividness
Sena Jeter Naslund, Lecturer
The creation of a powerful writing style comes from the tension between your diction (word choice) and the rhythm of your words. We examined the concepts of denotative vs. connotative meanings; abstract vs. concrete language; and imagery vs. figurative language.

  • Colors and number have a lot of power in writing.
  • Denotative – literal meaning of a words (car is a vehicle used for transportation)
  • Connotative – meaning of the word takes into account emotions (a car is a right of passage; a symbol of transitioning to adulthood, etc.). When you fully explore a connotation, you can add a rich layer of meaning. I immediately think of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak when Melinda’s art teacher forces her to explore the meaning of tree to her – from an object in nature to a symbol that represents a traumatic event in her life.
  • Abstract – language that is very cerebral
  • Concrete – language that describes things experienced by the senses
  • Imagery – employs concrete language to appeal to the five senses
  • In order to surprise and delight readers, your language needs to be fresh and original. This comes from the way you work with the tension between these concepts. An example from Robert Frost’s Design: “I found a dimpled spider, fat and white.” If you replaced spider with baby, this sentence is expected, but by inserting spider, we are invited to think about the insect in a new way.

Workshop: I met the four other writers in my workshop, led by Julie Brickman. We discussed workshop expectations and then jumped into discussing a pre-assigned work. Each workshop meeting we examine a published piece, in addition discussing each other’s writing and doing writing exercises.

  • Workshops are an “intellectual river with emotional support.” I loved this quote from our workshop leader. A workshop helps everyone collectively and not just the person whose piece is being discussed.

Lecture: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Love, Hate & Sex in James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”
Rachel Harper, Lecturer
Rachel Harper discussed the themes of the text “Giovanni’s Room.” If you haven’t read the text, it’s harder to make sense of the takeaways, but here’s one quote I came away with and loved.

  • “The state of birth, suffering, love and death are extreme states – extreme, universal, and inescapable.” From The Creative Process by James Baldwin, 1962. Youths by nature are exploring the extremes to discover who they are. This quote brought into focus why death, love, birth and suffering are such attractive topics to explore in YA lit.

Getting to Know the Faculty Session: Kind of like speed dating where you walk from room to room to meet the faculty and decide who you would like to work with as your mentor for the next semester.

Dinner: Great conversations with fellow writers and faculty.

Spalding’s Festival of Contemporary Writing: Faculty members read from their current WIP or publications. A great lesson in public speaking since I have no presence. Molly Peacock owns the stage. Go listen to her read if you ever get the opportunity. She could make the Yellow Pages entertaining. Overall, lots of impressive writing.

Molly Peacock
Robin Lippincott
Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Richard Goodman
Mary Yukari Waters
Luke Wallin
Debra Kang Dean

*These tips are all my own paraphrases. This blog series is not sponsored by Spalding or its faculty.