By Georgia Jackson, Writing Studio Consultant
As a consultant, mental gymnastics ensue: What do I do?, What will they expect from me?, What if it’s poetry?
This reaction is only as dramatic as it is common. Creative writing consultations make us nervous. But, they shouldn’t. USF Writing Consultants see everything from (deeply) personal statements to ream-length dissertations. So, what is it about a piece of creative writing that puts us on the spot?
Instead of answering that question, I propose a deep breath.
In the introductory craft book The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Writer’s Guide, Michael Kardos proposes a checklist with which readers can learn to read like writers. Kardos’s book is square-ish and lime-green and probably on the shelf of every student who has matriculated through USF’s creative writing program. Still, Kardos’s checklist is often overlooked.
While the checklist is designed as a reading guide for beginning writers, when applied to a work-in-progress, the checklist functions as a metacognitive challenge: “Why does this story begin when it does?” Kardos asks. “What is the main character’s underlying problem, and how does the story bring this problem into sharper focus?”
Other highlights include:
- “Is the writing ever less clear than it could be?”
- “Which parts of the story are dramatized through scenes? Which parts are summarized? Why?”
- “How is the story [or poem] structured? How else could it be?”
The majority of Kardos’s questions focus on authorial choice (why did the author do that? why not this?). And, by acknowledging that every word, line, and scene, is indeed a choice, Kardos emphasizes the endless possible forms a piece of writing can take.
Next time a creative writer walks into the Studio, remember that we need not practice creative writing ourselves to challenge a writer’s work in a constructive manner. (Why does the story or poem begin where it does? Might it make more sense to begin somewhere else?). Let the writer play defense; it’s good craft.