I was on cloud nine.
A creative writing course was actually being offered that semester in junior college and I jumped on it.
But when I walked into the classroom that first day and noticed that the desks were arranged in a circle, I panicked.
“Circles” meant “sharing” and “sharing” could only mean one thing – reading your work out loud. The thought had never crossed my mind.
Besides always hoping that time would run out before it was my turn to “share”, I do remember a few lessons that the professor “taught” us and I use that word loosely.
For the first weeks, the professor looked bored and unimpressed with his class of 19 years olds. While I listened in awe to the other students using fancy and colorful words that tumbled off the pages of their notebooks, the professor was expressionless to the point I wondered if he was asleep with his eyes open…until he broke down and got really, really annoyed.
“Your assignment for next class is to read Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea“” he ordered.
In the next class, he barked, “Take this class time to rewrite your last creative piece in the Hemingway style.”
No one was brave enough to clarify. I even heard someone mutter, “What a freaking quack in the box.”
But we did as we were told. This cycle of writing in the “Hemingway style” or writing and then editing to the Hemingway style went on for weeks until we learned the lessons he never bothered to explain. He let us figure it out on our own…
The professor was trying to help us find our own voices by stripping all the fluffy verbiage that we thought sounded intellectual and mature.
What were the lessons I learned?
- Keep words simple and clean;
- Limit adverbial speech tags, unless I really need to reflect which character is speaking;
- Effective dialogue removes the need for dialogue tags like “he said” and “she asked”; and
- “Show” what is going through your dialogue, don’t “Tell”.
It turned out that the professor wasn’t just a quack in the box – he was a creative quack in the box.
©2017 Marquessa Matthews. All Rights Reserved.
Originally posted March 10, 2016.