The explaining authority

My class for the term is finally starting to gel, even though today we had “outright lecture” to start things off. I absolutely hate having to revert to a high-school format of terms-and-definitions with a creative writing class, but I felt we needed clarity in terms. So today, we talked through such subjects as characterization (indirect and direct), dynamic v. static characters, in-scene vs. exposition, dialogue, dialect, and the TWO kinds of point-of-view* (first person limited and third person limited) that are acceptable. That led to some, though not much, discussion on whether there’s such a thing as omniscience in writing (my answer is no). Basically, I spent an hour and a half acting as the absolute authority on things for which there is no absolute authority.

I wish I could say that I’m not completely comfortable leading discussions like that, but really, it’s not that hard. The way that I can get through this is the same way that I got through papers in college where the question was too broad to be covered in the allotted essay space: I limit, and I explain. As I student, I don’t like having to do work that I can’t see a reason for; as an instructor, I try to be clear about the why behind anything I assign and anything over which I lecture. And sometimes that’s exhausting, because I can’t say what I want to — which is, I have been doing this longer than you have, so believe me. But so far I’m going on the theory that it pays off, because when I do have to set rules and limits that are, basically, arbitrary, students have had enough explanation from me to know that, OK, there’s something at work here. There’s a method to the madness. At least it worked out that way last term.

* I did talk briefly about the shifty third option in point-of-view (second person), which is in and out of fashion in literary writing. The example I most heartily recommend is “Until Gwen” by Dennis Lehane, which was published in the June 2004 Atlantic Monthly (The Tragedy of Tony Blair!) and later in the 2005 Best American Short Stories. It is, really, fantastic. First line: Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon, with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat.

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