Recently I was asked to be on a panel for the Columbia MFA Program called "Life After the MFA" with a number of other writers who had graduated from the Program. Each panelist had a different experience, but we all seemed to be happy with the choice we made to attend.
Having had a good experience myself, I have encouraged my most talented students to apply to MFA Programs. For the most part, I believe they have had a positive experience as well.
Click here for some tips and more thoughts on the process of getting into and attending MFA Programs.
Take the truth. The minute I put it down on paper, it is my truth, and that truth is a narrative, a piece of fiction, a story. The difference between non-fiction and fiction is the heading and the work: in non-fiction, by the fact of stating it is true, it has credibility and therefore can seem unbelievable; for fiction, the writer must make you believe the story is true whether it is or isn't.
The truth in fiction is not what has physically happened, but the emotion behind it. My goal as a writer is to make the reader feel something, to evoke a response. What you feel is the truth inside you, not necessarily the logistics of the story.
The truth outside me is something different altogether. The truth outside me needs to be written so that it reads as "real." In fiction, I cannot defend my story when someone says it's unbelievable, by saying, "But it really happened!" This is one of the first rules in my fiction class: you can never say whether or not it is true.
So if the truth doesn't matter, but the truth of the story does, how does a writer make their work believable?
I never want to lose my reader: once something in my story is unbelievable, the reader is taken "out". Suddenly, there is laundry to do, a car to move...no longer are they in the world I have created with my words. But if you do not deviate from your voice, if you are consistent in your storytelling, your reader will not second guess your "truth." Above all else, no matter what kind of story or genre or style you are writing in, if you are consistent in the way you have chosen to write (even if you are consistent in your inconsistency) the reader will go where you take them.
Take the truth. Another way the truth factors into ones' fiction is where you decide to use it. Your life is filled with "fiction-worthy" moments. Your past and your present. Start to carry around a small notebook. It can fit in your back pocket or your purse. Write down your dreams, ideas, overheard conversations, observations from the world as you experience them. When you are faced with an empty page, look back on your notes to inspire you. Combine "truths." Take the one moment in which action transcends the physical and becomes an emotion. This is how you make a reader "feel."
Take the truth. People often ask me whether my stories have happened or not. I think it is often hard for a reader to connect a person with their writing, or if they feel an intimacy with a character, to reconcile it with the writer who invented them. But I am a fiction writer. What happens in my stories are things that I know. They are not necessarily things that have happened, and if they have happened, they are still my own.
The emotions in my writing are the truth. If I can make you feel something, then I have done my job.
I'm sorry to say that this will be my last post as your guide here. Due to changing circumstances in other parts of my life I will no longer have the time to give this site the attention it deserves.
My brief stay here has been fun and rewarding and I'm sorry to have to go so soon. I've learned a lot and really enjoyed getting to know many of you.
I wish you all the best in your writing adventures!
There are three ways I generally start writing a new story. Most often I start with the scrap of an idea, almost as often with a character, and once in a while a setting grabs me and starts the ball rolling.
There is a fourth way to get a story started, and it's one I've largely ignored. That method is to begin with a theme in mind. I've avoided this method of story creation largely to avoid writing fiction with a "message". I write to entertain, not educate and having my writing come across as a sermon does not appeal to me.
In researching theme and how best to use it I came across some interesting takes on theme that made me think differently. I now believe that starting with the theme in mind does not have to lead to preachy fiction at all. I also believe that the sooner you have a handle on your theme the faster and easier your writing will be.
Check out Know Your Theme and see how redefining theme can help your writing.