Sunday, May 17, 2009

So a Grasshopper Walks Into a Bar...Or, Skipping to the Good Parts

This past week in writing class we had a discussion about how to hold and keep the reader, albeit a brief conversation. Strangely enough, the other person who was just as passionate about this topic as I was was a man. He is a tall, imposing aging lawyer (and before you get excited and start to set me up, he's married. Not that that should stop me, but I'm not going there with this guy), and when we got on this topic he said, "You know, I spill out this long, drawn out story with too much action and not enough details because I'm afraid my audience will walk away before the end of the story." I was stunned to hear this--someone else feels this way? And he's a GUY? I thought that men kept each other's attention when telling stories because they respected each other a lot more than they respected a women's point of view (I mean, a woman's point of view is going to drift off on some emotional tangent, right? Sort of like this post...). But a man was experiencing waning interest. This blew my mind, and I stated that I often felt the same way, that I made my stories short and that I summarized way too much of the plot because otherwise the reader walks away. Like telling stories in a bar or a coffee shop. He nodded in complete understanding there.

Of course, it wasn't always a male thing with me--I should bring up that exception. There was a friend of mine in Missouri who used to asked me to tell her a story and then cloud over with boredom after the first three sentences. I started responding with "I don't have any stories," when she would request one. I could understand why she asked when she was so bored so quickly. And I started thinking my life was boring.

Fast forward to California. There is very little boring in my life now--in fact it's got WAY too much self-inflicted drama. But I have discovered something in looking at how I tell a story. Throughout my life men have walked away from conversations with me--my father, my brother, guys I was attracted to in high school--and then in California I discovered how to keep them in the conversation, at least until the morning after: go to talk of sex. That tack won't keep my brother and father (I don't go to that subject with them, and they still walk away), but it keeps the rest. And, having problems in this department like I do, I don't even enjoy that conversation. I just enjoy that I've kept them.

Don't get me wrong--I have men friends who don't have to be spoken to in double-entendres in order to have a conversation with them. But if I want to be with them romantically? Hell, we never get to romance. The process is skipped, for fear they will be lost, and I latch on with the hot stuff first. Is it no wonder that I end up with the scum of the earth?

What this lawyer classmate and I need to do is trust ourselves. We need to walk well and strong without trying to catch a fish (reader/audience) and just allow the fish to come to our line. And that's what the professor assured us. I could balk at this--it feels like my life is dwindling and I have to act fast, so I skip to the parts, but that gives me a quick greed fix that has an empty, addictive feel to it. No real satisfaction.

Slow down.

So, dear reader, this grasshopper walks into a bar...

Stay tuned for the rest. :)


Occasional Guest Blogger said...

It's very cool that you're back in class, Jo. Lifelong learning is what it's all about.

I thought of you when I saw this critique group's ad while searching online for a new literary journal of the same name.

Jo Jardin said...

Ah, these links were a wonderful thing to settle into in catching up with my writing on the weekend...I was disappointed that the group had no contact information to which to submit stories though...perhaps they found their eighth. But I am looking forward to exploring the journal.

I usually have two objectives even in the most simple of conversations--how can I help this person, and what can I learn from them--but I missed the classroom setting. The writing groups gave me focus, but they were still missing an element: feedback and revision accountability. I was able to find that and talk about literature as well with this group. This coming Thursday, May 28th, is our last class, but the other reward in taking it is that I have a lot of groundwork to finding a process for my writing as well. I feel like I've gone from Nat's introduction to writing to the next level in the sediment. And the layer's color is bold.

More to come...