Fiction Exercise: Part 4
The fiction-writing exercise described in the posts of February 2, 7 and 13 was the first assignment of a class in which the students would later write essays on assigned subjects, using works of fiction and poetry as sources. The goal was to provide the students with some insight into what it takes to write fiction. (Poetry writing was addressed in another exercise). The greater goal was to engender a keener appreciation of fiction.
After getting the general plot settled in previous classes, it was time to concentrate on the pacing.
Exercise: Two things in particular can slow the pace of a story; unnecessary words, and lack of clarity.
Peer review provides a good opportunity for students to comb an essay for repetition, which is self-explanatory, and adverbs, most of which can be removed. ”He ran” is sufficient, instead of “he ran quickly.” If the point is his speed, then use sped, sprinted, galloped, streaked, or some other more expressive verb. Use the word itself to provide the energy, not an adverb. Instead of “he was very angry,” use fumed, or blustered, or boiled, and so on.
The passive voice, and the “It,” and “This,” forms (it was cold, this was true (when it’s not clear what “this” is) turn energy upon itself. ”He was told,” should be “John told him” unless there’s a darn good reason why not to reveal John’s presence at that moment. In writing a fiction piece, it is easier to discern whether the agent needs to be hidden. Fiction reveals many things in living color.
Lack of clarity causes the reader to re-analyze a sentence, thus slowing her forward progress. One student wrote “This drifted TJ and his friend apart.” Drifted is an intransitive verb, so this sounds odd, causing a blip in comprehension. Changing this to “TJ and his friend drifted apart” corrects the fuzziness of this sentence and moves the story ahead faster.
Mastery of grammar is most necessary when fixing awkward or inexpressive work.
This exercise teaches, without saying so, that every word has its own energy. Changing one word or one construction shifts the balance of a sentence because a words are more than simple meaning. Each word, and each grammatical form carries baggage.