Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Conference Thoughts

By Janie Kronk

The SCWW conference was great again this year. I attended mostly sessions on craft, my three favorites being Jeanne Leiby on "The Art of the Short Story," Irene Goodman's session on "Narrative Drive," and Forrest Gander's session on "Eco-Poetics."

Leiby crammed "an entire graduate semester into an hour-and-a-half," focusing mostly on that construct commonly known as the story arc. What I took away from Leiby's presentation was what she called "the crisis," the moment that occurs just before the climax. She says this element is often missing in much of what she sees come across her desk at the Southern Review--as well as in most contemporary, mainstream movies. This is the "no-turning-back" moment, when the character must make a decision that leads to the climax. As she said, "When Hamlet is preparing for a duel with Laertes, he has to make the decision to fight. What can't happen is that Hamlet puts down his sword and says, 'You know, I don't really feel like doing this right now. Let's go have a beer.'"

Goodman took us line by line through the openings of Gone With the Wind and Rosemary's Baby, explaining why, in her opinion, each phrase, each paragraph, pulls us along to the next. The session was an interesting dissection of what creates suspense, and how the reader can be pulled along even by planting small questions in their minds: "If she's not beautiful, then what makes Scarlett so charming?" and "What will the inside of Guy and Rosemary's new apartment look like?"

Gander's session satisfied my need to be a geek, listening to theoretical discussions on philosophy, geology, and poetry, all wrapped up into one session. We even translated an ancient Chinese poem, starting with the Chinese characters. He emphasized the writer's need to create awareness of the environment we live in, the importance of our connections between each other, and the places we live. This was a great message to end the weekend on.

By the way, Laura, Bonnie, and Beth made great roommates during the conference and were also great sources of information and inspiration.

1 comment:

Columbia Writers Workshop said...

Your notes are almost as good as the workshops. Irene Goodman was among the best presenters. When asked about writers and webpages, she answered as if it were a no-brainer, of course every writer should have one.

I've heard others say Jeanne Leiby was good. Wish I had seen her.