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About this book

This introductory creative writing text uses a unique, multi-genre approach to provide students with a broad-based knowledge of their craft, treating them as professional writers. Beginning by discussing elements common to all genres, this book underscores the importance of learning good writing habits before committing to a genre, encouraging writers to look beyond their genre expectations and learn from other forms.

The book then devotes one chapter to each of the major literary genres: fiction, poetry, drama and creative nonfiction. These style-specific sections provide depth as they compare the different genres, furnishing students with a comprehensive understanding of creative writing as a discipline and fostering creativity. The discussion concludes with a chapter on digital media and an appendix on literary citizenship and publishing. With exercises at the end of each chapter, a glossary of literary terms, and a list of resources for further study, A Writer’s Craft is the ideal companion to an introductory creative writing class.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
This is probably the first question you have. Or maybe you already think you know the answer, since you signed up to take a course called Creative Writing or something similar. In all likelihood, you do have some good ideas about what creative writing is, but you may also wonder what distinguishes it from other kinds of writing. The easy answer is that creative writing includes drama, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Those are the main forms of writing that we will look at in this textbook. The answer becomes a little harder when we try to define what makes these forms different from other forms of writing, so here’s another way to look at it. In most of your other classes, you probably write essays. One might argue that the essay is one form and creative writing uses other forms. Yet when we discuss nonfiction, we will talk about the essay as one form that you might use in creative writing (and we will even talk about the differences between nonfiction and creative nonfiction). So there is a gray area between what we might classify as creative writing and other forms. Perhaps the best way to think about the difference is by looking at the kind of assignments that are given in creative writing versus other classes. In a literature class, you might be asked to analyze a piece of literature and give your interpretation. Or in a history class, you might be asked to discuss the causes or the effects of an event. You have a specific topic that defines your task, and you write about it, using evidence to support the assertions you want to make.
Kendall Dunkelberg

2. The Writing Process

Abstract
A common image of the writer is of someone who is suddenly struck with inspiration, like a bolt of lightning. He or she rushes to the typewriter (or these days to a keyboard, but in the old days to a roll of parchment and a quill pen) and dashes off a few perfect lines. This is the romantic idea of the poet: Wordsworth walking through daffodils, then sitting down later to pen “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” It’s a nice idea, but it’s terribly unrealistic. I’m not saying that poems or even stories never seem to happen this way—some writers do report times when writing seems this inspired, and even I have had some poems that seemed to come to me fully formed. But it can be a debilitating model to try to live up to, and even when the writing does seem to flow from the pen, I would argue that it usually does so, not only because the writer is inspired by the muse, but also because the writer has done many things prior to that experience to cultivate the muse. Look at it in another way. How often have you been inspired to write in the last year or so? When you did sit down to write, was the initial product perfect? If you’re a typical student, my guess is you answered that you wrote a few times in the past year and the writing you produced was less than perfect. Otherwise, why would you sign up for this class or buy this book? If you already write perfectly, then you should quit school, move to Hollywood, New York, or London, and seek your fortune as a screenwriter or novelist. If you’re a poet, I’m sorry to say, you’d better not seek your fortune with poetry, but if you can live on fine words alone, you can move to the mountains and subsist on air. I’m joking, of course, since very few people can make it as a writer without some serious training or at least many years of apprenticeship.
Kendall Dunkelberg

3. Language, Rhythm, and Sound

Abstract
In the next several chapters, we will begin our exploration of writing by discussing some of the basic building blocks of the writer’s trade. These are the essential tools we work with, and they can be a source of inspiration. So what better place to start than with language itself? Most writers are obsessed with language, and for good reason. Language is the essential medium in which writers work. Painters have to learn about their tools of paint, brushes, and canvas or other surfaces, sketch artists learn to work with different pencils and the textures of paper, sculptors learn the properties of clay or stone or metal, and musicians learn the qualities of sound, the sequences of scales and chords, as well as the physical properties of their chosen instrument. Writers work with words and sentences, so it is no wonder that we pay close attention to their meaning and to their more physical properties of tone and rhythm. It may seem odd to focus on language, though. After all, we are all adults and have been speaking one language or another for nearly two decades, possibly longer. We have heard language since the moment we were born, and we can use it without consciously thinking. And yet, precisely because language is so familia.
Kendall Dunkelberg

4. The Writer in the World

Abstract
We have discussed the writing process and we’ve begun to look at the most fundamental aspect of writing: language. Over the next few chapters, we’ll be looking at more of the raw materials writers draw on for inspiration, as we continue to look at the fundamentals that go into all good writing. This may be a good time to take a moment to think about the “rules” of creative writing. Some textbooks are organized around rules for good writing, though in general I try to avoid talking in terms of rules or in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong. When discussing rules, I prefer to think of them in terms of conventions—the expectations a reader is likely to have when reading in a literary genre. Some are genre specific and others hold true for any creative writing, regardless of form. As with any expectation, it is always possible to defy literary conventions, but it is helpful to know what they are so you know when you are bucking a trend and when you are following it. In the pages to come, when we discuss “what good writers do” or “what the conventions are,” you should realize that “good writers” sometimes break all the “rules,” but they typically know what they are doing and why. Taken in this spirit, the rules of good writing are more like ground rules or, as I like to think of them, fundamentals. Sure you can do something different, as long as you have good reason to. And if that catches on, then it may become the new rule or convention.
Kendall Dunkelberg

5. Past Worlds

Abstract
In the previous chapter, we have talked about writing from experience, paying attention to the world around and relying on the concrete, specific images you see, hear, feel, smell, or taste. I said at the outset that you might find this limiting if you feel you can only write about your campus, and though you can extend your world by going off campus, you may not be able to travel far enough, especially during the term. One place to go for inspiration, especially if you can’t travel far, is to the past. We begin our discussion of this in the most accessible place: your own memory. Consider for a moment your earliest childhood memories. What was your first house like? It may be the only house your family ever lived in, or you may have moved around. Still, the house as it was when you were four or five is likely very different from the house you live in today. As you think about the sofa you had in the living room (or was it a couch in a family room?) or the bedspread you lay across to read books from the library, you likely have a strong emotional response. There may be other things you remember that affect you more than these examples.
Kendall Dunkelberg

6. Invented Worlds

Abstract
So far, we have mostly discussed creative writing as if the only option were realism. When discussing memory in the previous chapter, we began to branch out with the idea that memory can bend or reshape the reality we lived through, telescoping time or combining memories, even inventing memories. Yet the primary basis for this material came from and was judged against the real world to a greater or lesser degree. Realism isn’t the only option a writer has, though. With enough imagination, the written word can take us places that don’t or even can’t exist. One model for this kind of invention can come from the world of dreams. Dreams are familiar. Everyone has them, though some remember their dreams more than others. We all know more or less how dreams operate. They seem real while we are in them, yet we know they are not. Sometimes we even realize we are dreaming while we are still in the dream, yet the experience of the dream still is vivid. Dreams operate on their own kind of logic. They defy the rational logic of the waking world and instead follow an irrational, associative logic that only makes sense within the context of the dream. You may be talking to one person one minute in a dream and then suddenly realize it is someone else. You may walk out of your house in the dream and end up, not in your front yard, but beside a castle or a waterfall. The familiar and the fantastical are often combined in seemingly endless patterns until the dream plays out or the dreamer awakes.
Kendall Dunkelberg

7. Character and Voice

Abstract
In the previous three chapters, our discussion of writing has primarily focused on place: where you go for inspiration. Writers may draw on their experience of the world around them, they may draw on memory, or they may draw on their dreams and imagination, yet for many writers this may not be enough or it may not be where they go first. Often, writers say that a story or poem begins, not with the plot or with the setting, but with a character. Once the writer knows who he or she is going to write about, then the other things begin to fall into place. Other writers start with a place and only then begin to populate it with one or more characters. And occasionally a writer will know what is going to happen before knowing where and to whom it will happen. As with so many issues in writing, there is no one right way to do it. There is no right order to write in. But one thing is true: whether the characters emerge first or whether they emerge later in the process, compelling characters are essential to most good writing. Naturally, we expect characters in fiction and drama. We also expect them in some forms of nonfiction, such as in autobiography or docudrama. We may not expect them as much in the personal essay or in a poem, where the use of character is often much more subtle and minimal. Perhaps there is only a word or an image that gets at the character in a poem or even in flash fiction. Yet often, if not always, the writing arises out of a sense of character, even if the character is a persona of the writer.
Kendall Dunkelberg

8. Perspective and Point of View

Abstract
As the idea for a piece of writing begins to develop, one of the first choices is likely to concern the perspective from which the piece is written. This may begin with the choice of main character or it may begin with an early description. Because the initial choice may not be the best, as a piece develops, it can be a good idea to experiment with different perspectives to see which gives it the most energy. Though it can lead to major revisions, often a change in perspective is just what a story needs to make it feel finished. Try writing from different perspectives. At the very least, it will give you insight into your characters and the world they live in. Even if you don’t use those exercises in the finished piece, they will inform the writing that you do. We can start our discussion of perspective in terms of the angle of vision. If you view a plant or animal from far away, chances are you can see all of it (unless parts are obscured by something else), but you can’t see a lot of detail. If it is an animal, like a horse running across a pasture, then you see the movement of the horse, and you may see its mane or its tail, but you probably don’t notice every marking on it, and you may not be able to tell whether it is sweating or breathing hard. If, on the other hand, you view the same horse up close, you get an entirely different impression.
Kendall Dunkelberg

9. Finding Patterns

Abstract
At some point in the writing process, the writer will move beyond the initial stages of generating ideas and begin to shape those ideas into a story, poem, play, or essay. Though we are moving toward those bigger forms and to our discussion of specific genre conventions, it seems worthwhile to stop for a moment and consider how a writer makes that choice and how to begin to give those ideas some structure. In a way, the previous two chapters have already invited you to do this. By exploring character and by making choices in perspective or point of view, you may already have brought some definition to a story or poem. You have begun to move beyond ideas for a work that you might write, and you have begun to think of it as a work in progress. It’s likely you already know whether the work is shaping up as a poem, story, play, or essay.
Kendall Dunkelberg

10. Creative Nonfiction

Abstract
On the one hand, the answer to this question is easy: The term “nonfiction” suggests that it is the opposite of fiction. But then where do poetry and drama fit in? They are also not fiction (and some libraries classify them under nonfiction), yet we see them as distinct from nonfiction. Nonfiction may mean that it is true, factual, not “made up,” though as we’ll see, even that can be problematic. But in general, the goal of nonfiction is to stick to reality rather than invent it. So what makes some nonfiction creative? We might say that creative nonfiction is literary nonfiction, but what does that mean? One answer is that it’s not only about what it says it’s about. I might write about my childhood to reveal something about race relations or I might write a travelogue of Paris, not to be a guidebook to the city, but to present a guide to French culture or compare it to my culture. Or I might write a recipe, not to cook it (though maybe you could) but to get at the philosophy or way of life of my grandmother.
Kendall Dunkelberg

11. Poetry

Abstract
Though we’ve been talking about poetry for several chapters, and though I’ve even asked you to write poetry, we haven’t formally considered what makes something a poem. One reason I have been able to do this is that I expect you all have some ideas already about what makes a poem. That can be both good and bad. In the previous chapters, I’ve tried to work with those received notions at times and to challenge them at other times. Much of what we learn about poetry in our early school years (and, for that matter, even in undergraduate literature classes) can seem outdated or even archaic when compared to the poems we read in current literary magazines or anthologies. You may find contemporary poetry unfamiliar, even confusing. That doesn’t make one form of poetry right and the other forms wrong, but students often come to an introductory creative writing class with a fairly limited idea of what constitutes a poem and with a fairly limited experience of reading poetry. Though that is perfectly understandable, now is the time to begin to expand our notion of what makes something a poem.
Kendall Dunkelberg

12. Fiction

Abstract
On the one hand, this may be the easiest genre to define. Most of us are more familiar with fiction than with the other genres. We read novels from the time we begin to read. Accelerated reader programs in public schools rely primarily on novels and some nonfiction, but rarely include poetry or drama. It’s likely you’ve read more fiction than just about any other form, except perhaps textbooks. To define it, we might call it a form that tells an invented story using prose. That doesn’t get us too far, though, and once you start looking at the form in more detail, there’s still plenty to learn. One distinction I like to make about fiction for the undergraduate creative writing classroom, at least at the introductory level, is that we typically focus on the short story, rather than the novel, which is the most familiar. It is worth thinking for a moment about the differences between the novel and the short story forms. Obviously, the main difference is that one is much shorter than the other, but what does that mean for the short story writer?
Kendall Dunkelberg

13. Drama

Abstract
Drama is writing that is meant to be portrayed by live actors. In this book, we will focus on drama written for the stage, though in a broader context drama might also be written for the movies or television. Though those forms share many of the same features, there are also many conventions that are very different between the theater and cinema or television. Because the theater is the original form of drama and because it can be less complicated than the more technological forms of cinema and television, we will focus on it. Of course, the theater can be as complicated as other forms, but it’s a little easier to strip it down to just the basics and still produce something that could be performed as a play. When you write drama for the stage, you write a script rather than a story or a poem. The conventions of scriptwriting are different from the conventions of fiction or poetry (and the conventions of writing a screenplay or a television script are even more different). I will try to give a basic introduction to scriptwriting in this chapter, though there is much more to learn about writing plays.
Kendall Dunkelberg

14. Other Genres

Abstract
Arguably, the four genres we have been studying throughout this book are the main forms of creative writing. They have the longest history, stretching back hundreds and even thousands of years. Poetry goes back at least as far as there is written language, and oral poetry goes back even further, though it is impossible to know how far. Drama, often written in verse, goes back almost as far as poetry, and if you don’t worry about whether it was written in prose or in verse, so does fiction. Our creation stories, myths, and epics are narratives that are at least as complex as the modern novel. And even creative nonfiction might be dated at least as far back as Hesiod’s Works and Days, which combined myth with practical and poetic advice on farming and the rhythms of an agricultural life. Yet in the modern era, new technologies have given rise to new forms or at least new permutations of the old forms. One of the first technologies to arise and change the literary world in the late nineteenth century was the motion picture. Photography before that changed the way we look at our world, but with the advent of the movies, we were suddenly able to tell a story with pictures and eventually with sound.
Kendall Dunkelberg
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