Saturday, February 18, 2012

Weekly Whine: Writers Workshop

When I was in college, I took a few writer's workshop classes, because I like to write. The beginners workshop class was pretty fun, but then I made the mistake of taking an advanced writers workshop. It was a nightmare.

The students in the class were all these pseudo-bohemian English major types who thought they were all going to write the great American novel. They looked like they thought they should be smoking cigarettes at a café in Amsterdam (or something equally pretentious).

One thing they did that annoyed me to no end was they couldn’t write normal dialogue. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to me, dialogue is supposed to open with a quotation mark and close with a quotation mark. I mean, am I on crazy pills here? Nobody managed to stick to this. We got people who would just put a little dash before the dialogue:

-Hi, what's going on?
-Not much. How are you?

Or maybe italicize it:

Today I am bored, I am filled with boredom, he said.

Or my personal favorite, not denote that it was dialogue at all:

It's rather hard to tell that I'm speaking, he said.
Oh, I agree, she said.

You arrogant pricks, just put in a freaking quotation mark, will you?!

One guy wrote this story that everyone was slobbering all over themselves for. It was about this woman who took a bus trip. I think the woman was also world-weary. I really don’t think anything else happened except that this woman took this bus trip for like ten pages. At some point, she got off the bus.

I remember someone in the workshop commented in amazement, “She got off the bus at the exact time I wanted her to get off the bus!” I wanted her to get off the bus too, mostly because I wanted something to happen in the story. Anything. I think this story won some contest later on. I showed it to one of my (math major) friends who didn’t get it either.

Maybe my problem was that I just couldn’t appreciate all kinds of writing. A writer once said to me that she had to teach herself to recognize what was good and bad in different styles of writing, even if it wasn’t the style she preferred. I can’t do that. I only know what I like and don’t like.

And in case you were curious, none of them wrote the great American novel. (Thanks, Google.)


  1. This post reminds me so much of a playwriting class that I took in my first year of university. It being an amateur class, most of the people were realistic about their talent, but there was one member in particular who thought himself to be really amazing. He wrote ridiculously long and bizarre scenes in which people would talk about absolutely nothing in a completely artificial way in which no one ever talks. It drove me mildly crazy, particularly when he won a playwriting contest and had one of his pretentious plays produced.

  2. Huh...apparently the person mentioned above is making his living as a filmmaker. Thank you Google.

  3. This reminds me of a party my girlfriend dragged me to full of bohemian hipster types. There's something about them I simply don't like.

  4. I'm amazed how many people want to be a writer. Ok you want to be a writer? sit down and write. Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. Show me the novel.

    Sadly, that doesn't happen a lot.

  5. So I'm guessing you never read/hated Ulysses? Or at least detest Joyce for using dashes instead of quotation marks? He did write arguable one of the best novels ever written though, so maybe you'll give him a pass.

  6. rem: Never read it, no interest in reading it. I'm sure the dashes would have irritated me if I read it. Really, what's the point? If someone can give me a really good reason for doing it, then I'd consider that.

  7. Because people like to develop their own style. Just like some authors use long, flowy sentences and some use short, succinct ones. Lots of great authors do things differently because it's simply their unique style. It's part of what makes what they write theirs. I don't understand why the dashes would bother you anyway, as they often denote dialogue even more easily than quotation marks.

  8. rem: IIIIf someone wants to have their own style of using language* that#s one thing and IIII respect that* but IIII feel like it should still be within the confines of English punctuation^ YYYYou shouldn#t be able to just make up all your own rules like substituting # for apostrophes and expect your writing to still be readable^

    1. I argue that it is within the confines of English punctuation. Just because they don't teach 4th graders that way does not necessarily mean that it's grammatically incorrect. To be honest, I think there were two main points to your story. I can understand that a group that seems pretentious can be extremely annoying. I think everyone has experienced that and no one will argue that point. But your whole argument about the punctuation is really stretching it. I'm an MS4 and in undergrad I had plenty of friends who were "hard" science majors (I was an economics major myself), and I can imagine many of them saying the same thing. I still don't think the argument has a leg to stand on. Sometimes you just need to accept that the arts don't always follow hard and hast rules like science (sort of).

    2. rem: I mainly think it's pretentious because it doesn't add anything. Making your sentences choppy changes the way your writing sounds. But what exactly does it add to use dashes instead of quotes? It just seems pretentious and pointless. They were just doing it for the sake of sounding like Joyce (or whoever).

  9. Solitary Diner - was it Kevin Williamson and Dawson's Creek?

    Also, I have read Ulysses, and hated it. I don't mind some of Joyce's other works, but I found Ulysses to be tedious and drawn-out. Fizzy - I am like you, I need structure in my reading/writing, and don't react well to the lack of it.

    I took a philosophy course back in undergrad, in order to fulfill my required humanities credit for my degree. The only one available at the time was Existentialism - talk about pretentious! I think everyone in the class wore black (except for the kooky girl who always came to class with a comb stuck somewhere in her hair), berets and loved to discuss their ideas ad nauseum, even if it was the same as everyone else's. As an Honors Biochem major, I found it simultaneously hilarious and ridiculous. I did love my prof, though.