March 9th, 2009

Don't Hassle the Hoff

If You'd Be Good To Me, Ohh I'll Be Good To You

To most people, a car is just a damned thing that breaks down and occasionally gets you places. It consumes money, tries patience, and occasionally induces rage. It takes up space, gets dirty and dented, and occasionally saves you time over walking.

That didn't used to be the case, though. People once took PRIDE in their automobiles. They'd keep the same car for decades - sure, sometimes because they couldn't afford to upgrade - because they liked the way they drove. The way they felt sitting in the driver's seat. They'd grown accustomed to all of their car's quirks, mastered the steering and parallel parking, and tricked them inside and out to have them looking their best. Rather than plow through the five-minute car wash, they chose to wash them by hand, because it brought them immense joy to see their baby glimmering. You had to know how to work on a car's engine, not just to save on money, but because you wanted an intimate knowledge of everything your car embodied.

People didn't just own cars because of convenience, or practicality, or gas mileage. Sure, maybe once you got married and started spewing children you'd get a second auto to take the kids to school or something. But that first car, that special one, was always for pleasure.

Now what do you see? Rows and rows of sedans and SUVs in every supermarket parking lot. Each car looking exactly like the other: four doors, silver/gray, with the same damned boring shape. Average trunk space, average engine space, average amount of leg room. Rice Rockets and Gas Guzzlers. Even though most people who drive sedans don't carpool - thereby not taking advantage of the four-door feature - and most people don't go off-roading - thereby not taking advantage of their SUV's SUV-ness.

And if you ask someone why they drive the car they drive, what do they say inevitably? Good on gas mileage; got a good deal on the lease; it's got all the safety features; computer chip convenience. But you know, really, unless they're wealthy or willing to put up a significant amount of money down on their car, they're not buying the thing because it's their ideal vehicle. If you ask someone who's into cars what their dream car is, inevitably you'll get fanciful answers like Porsche, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, shit like that. Really COOL cars that go fast, get shit gas mileage, yet manage to impress the panties off of shallow leggy blondes with fake tits.

Well, my car won't be bagging me any fake titted blondes any time soon, but at least I have a valid reason for driving her. And it's not for this pussy bullshit like gas mileage, safety, or durability. It's about being proud of the car that I drive. It's about driving something that isn't the same old fucking thing you see on every fucking highway you drive on. It's about owning a classic, rebuilding it from scratch, pounding out all the dents and slapping a new paint job on that baby. Eventually, it'll lead me to taking a class on fixing cars (a class I wanted to take in high school if they didn't cut the damned program a year before I enrolled) and really getting involved in my car's upkeep.

So one day I can look at it, take it for a spin, and feel the tremendous joy that driving is capable of giving. With a clear road, an open window, and a gas pedal to the floor.
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Beginning Short Story Writing


If you can write, you can write a short story. It doesn't take any kind of special skill or fundamental knowledge inherent in your genes from birth. You only really need a character and a plot.

Jimmy liked to ride his bike. One day Jimmy got hit by a car. Jimmy no longer liked to ride his bike.

That right there is a story. It's not very good, and if you tried to submit it to The New Yorker Magazine you'd be laughed out of the room. But, while I did say that anybody can write a short story, you'll notice I didn't say that everyone can write a good one.

There are certain ideas, topics, and devices to be learned, and certainly reading early and often will not hurt you. But, the most important facet of good writing is practice. That is why, in this class, everyone will keep a daily writing journal. In this journal, you can do anything. Write about your lives' daily minutae, jot down story ideas, construct scenes or character descriptions, or just describe ordinary things sitting around you. Try to devote an hour a day or more, but at the very least block off 30 minutes for uninterrupted, undistracted writing. To be a writer, and to have a successful experience in this class, you will only get out of it what you put in. Unfortunately, that means time and solitude.

There will also be bi-weekly writing assignments for the first five weeks of this class, as well as reading assignments from established writers of short stories. The readings are to give you ideas on style and technique; the assignments are to incorporate that which you practice on a daily basis in your writing journal, all the while helping you construct block by block a full-length short story.

A short story can be as long as 100 pages (anything longer would technically be a novella, then a novel) or as short as 1 page. In this class, you'll work on crafting a story in the 10-20 page range (double spaced, 12-point font), which will be workshopped by your peers in the second half of the class.

There are four basic elements to any story: characters, setting, plot, theme.

In the first week, we'll take a look at characters. You will think about construction: who they are, what they look like, back stories, beliefs. More than any other element, you'll learn to focus on the details, for these are what give your characters life.

In the second week, we'll focus on setting. Not just the cities or countries in which they inhabit, but their homes and places of employment. Where they go for recreation. What these places look like, what time period they're in. How can you use details to describe these things, as opposed to straight exposition? Instead of saying, "The house is dilapidated," say, "With missing shingles and a faded paint job, the house appeared to slump like a nursing home resident in front of the television."

In the third week, we'll ramp it up by zeroing in on plot. I don't care what anyone tells you, a good story needs ... a story. Something to happen. We'll work on creating a story arc. Taking those characters and that setting, mashing them together, and introduce some conflict. Your traditional story arc goes like this: meet so-and-so, he lives here and does this, until one day something happens, at which point he responds to that something until one way or another he finds a resolution. Introduction, Conflict, Action, Resolution, Conclusion. That's your traditional story arc; but I'll show you how you can circumvent that, so you're not just doing the same old thing.

Finally, in the fourth week, we'll work on theme and style. Any good writer needs a reason for writing. It could be simply for entertainment, or because you want to get a message across to your reader. Inevitably, what you want to have in the back of your mind at all times is: Why am I writing this? What is this story about? You could write a story about a man who murders his wife, gets away with it, until finally the guilt wears him down to the point where he needs to confess his crime, but that's not really what the story is about. It's about human nature, justice, morality, and any number of other ideas you wish to get across in your writing. And as for style, every writer has an innate writing style. Some writers are more formal and structured, others choose to be colloquial, or comical, or melodramatic. If you like, you can try out different styles to test your literary muscle, but it's more important to recognize what style you have and master that.

What will follow are five weeks of workshopping. Four stories per week that the entire class will comment on. Stories and critiques will be posted anonymously, with absolutely no access to any other classmates' critiques. Brutal honesty is what we're looking for here, so don't be afraid to give an honest opinion of a story. Only I will know who said what, and I will not hold any negative reviews against anyone. Constructive, honest criticism is the only thing that will help you in your story revisions.

After you've received your critiques - including a detailed one by me - you'll have the remainder of the term to revise your story, which will be due in the final week. After that, you'll receive a final review and grade based on improvements made and how you utilized the criticism of the class. In addition to the final version of your story, you'll submit a 1-2 page paper discussing your revision process and how you arrived at the finished product.