“How’d You Come Up With Stuff?”

This is the second post in our series of creative writing workshop recaps. Heather Hasselle led our workshop on short-fiction writing on May 10 at White Light Studio.

Short Answer: We’ve been watching. 

Long answer: Writers don’t make this shit up. It’s out there. It’s in us. It’s real. We’ve just been watching and listening, really closely. 

After my first “Intro to Drawing” class, I realized that to be able to draw something accurately, you had to really know what that thing looked like. Which meant you had to look at it a long, long time, even if that thing was a just a BASKET OF FRUIT. You had to look and draw and look and draw, and still even then, it didn’t always turn out exactly like what was in front of you (me), but it was a hell of a lot better than if you tried to draw it while looking at a blank wall, with nothing but a vague memory of the shape of an apple. 

Writing is the same deal. Fiction is not pulled out of thin air like a fly ball (SPORTS METAPHOR). It isn’t fake, or made-up. It’s true. And even if the events in your stories didn’t “actually happen,” what you’re writing holds truth, especially if you’ve looked at the basket of fruit, AKA: The World, long enough and closely enough. If you’ve been observing and listening, understanding and empathizing; if you are aware of yourself and of others, and of all that is around us, going on in this bizarre and horrible and wonderful way. 

It’s just a matter of looking closely and drawing what you see. Then you’re free to add the flourishes; you can slap some glitter on those apples or make your bananas blue, but what’s there is still recognizable. And hopefully, through your rendering and with your additions, what is familiar will be seen in a new light, but a light that still feels real. We are convinced we’ve seen a blue banana, and if we haven’t before, we have now.

As writers, we can only hope that our “fictional” stories ring true in the hearts of our readers, making them say, damn that is the truth!

Tips on Looking Closely at “The Basket of Fruit”

Keep a tiny notebook of tiny details. Anything that lights your brain up—that woman’s hair in the line at the post office, the raindrops adhered to a spider web hanging on the gas pump, a line of dialogue you overheard at the coffee shop. Write down all the beautiful and strange details, all the little parts of this weird world. Then, when you’re writing a story, and you find yourself (or your character) at a gas station, you’ll remember that spider web. You get to use that brain-lighting-up image/sound/thing and it’s wonderful and you didn’t make it up and it found a place in a different world. Your world. And now, hopefully, it’ll give all those readers that same jolt-in-the-heart it gave you. 

Another thing discussed in workshop (letting free the wild rumpus): 

Once you start writing and what you’ve written has reminded you of something else, write that down, too. Let it all unravel, and later, you can go back and edit. But when you first begin, it’s more than okay (preferable, really) for it to be reckless and wild.