Thursday, October 1, 2009

Popular Fiction Class: Week 1

As most of you know, my three semester writing course at the University of Washington started yesterday. It’s called Popular Fiction 1: The Beginning (for the fall section; winter and spring are called the Middle and the End, respectively), but I’ll be calling it PFC for short (not to be confused with PPC, PCC, BFG or PB&J).

My instructor is Pam Binder, PNWA president and published novelist. I have to say, I was impressed by her style during the informational class and her devoted follow-up to my questions regarding her course. And now that the course is underway, my early opinion is confirmed: Pam is pretty darn cool.

Class started as one would expect: a gathering of timid writers in a small room, early comers spread out along the rows of tables as the rest filled in the gaps. This is a full class, 25 people and (yikes) 14 people on the waiting list. Glad I signed up early. Pam came in and everyone chatted casually for a bit before beginning introductions. You know, that typical, and necessary, “this is my name, this is who I am, and this is what I like to write.”

A cross section of my classmates: a physicist with five published non-fiction books, a stay at home mom, a game designer, a few editors, a couple journalists, a man who once sold aircrafts to the Russian mafia, a woman who has had an idea about a novel for forty years, an environmental scientist who tests hazardous waste, and a guy who liked the class so much last year he’s back for a second round.

Pam went on to cover the basics: the do and do nots about publishing and agents, the reason why you don’t use pink paper and 3 pt font, and why its important to know your genre and be able to pitch your idea coherently.

Enter exercise 1. We were each given a blue note card and ten minutes to produce the following: our name, working title of our work in progress, genre of said WIP, and two sentences describing the novel.

Well, shit. Nothing like an assignment to smash my indecisiveness. Ala’der it is, since I’ve decided I will benefit most from taking a new project through the program, start to finish, instead of trying to rewrite something I haven’t finished yet. Good news is I have a pretty good grasp on what my Ala’der book is about. Bad news? When we’re done with said exercise, we will be reading it aloud to the class.


So here’s what my card looked like (and by the way, Pam gave full permission for horridly written run-on sentences for this first attempt at grasping at our ideas):

Name: Erin
Working Title: Ala’der
Genre: Fantasy
Two sentences: (Just to let you all know, its really hard to not edit this the next day, but I want to give you the honest crap I spewed out last night) “At the age of nine, Kelder was chosen by the Sand god to be of the Ala’der, feared assassins with mirrors for eyes and control of the desert for the meager price of their soul. Now, fourteen years later, she is called by the people of her god’s rival, the Sun, to kill a soul looker – the one blasphemy that crosses deity lines – and discovers a horrible truth: the soul looker is her sister, Telleo.”

Yeah. I totally read that in front of twenty-four other writers. And it was nerve wracking. And then, watching other people go through the same thing, I felt better – not in a mean way, mind you. Surprise, surprise, I’m not the only writer who finds reading out loud difficult. I listened to others stumble over their words, voices cracking, and watched a number of other blue cards tremble with the anxiousness that comes with public speaking.

All exercises will be done like this: 15-30 minutes of writing, followed by reading aloud to the group. I think this will be really good practice in a place that already feels safe. These people are in the same boat as me, so we can all suffer fantastically together and hopefully as a result be better prepared when it’s time to read our stuff to agents and, perhaps one day, to our fans.

We also spent 15 minutes writing the opening scene of our novel. I already had a few stabs at a beginning for Ala’der, but I started from scratch for the exercise. And I think I might be on to something – a slight twist that might give the opening more bite. Cool.

After the writing time was up, Pam spent the rest of the class talking about the basics of critiquing – something I won’t go into detail in this post. I think most of my followers have a good grasp on how this works, and while it’s always necessary to discuss this in a new class, I don’t think you all need to hear it again. At least not in a post that’s already approaching epic in length.

The class ended with two homework assignments. First, expand our opening scene into three double spaced pages to hand in next week to Pam, who will return it the week after with her personal critique. And second, visit a bookstore and decide where our novel would appear (what genre category, mostly) and what author we might find on the shelf next to us.

To say the least, a great start.


Candy said...

That is awesome. Would love to know more about how you are doing. I also began my BA and have already written pages of work and read over 4 1/2 books since the beginning of September...

beth said...

That sounds so cool--just the thing to kickstart better writing. Wish I could come!

Lady Glamis said...

Sounds pretty awesome! And some great people in your class too. Wow. Aircraft to the mafia. Sweet.

Keep us posted on what you learn since I can't go. :)

scott g.f.bailey said...

How does Pam define "popular fiction?"

The Screaming Guppy said...

I don't think its Pam's call as much as UW's call. Pretty much all genre fiction is included in "Popular fiction." The UW as a separate program for Literary fiction.

Dawn VanderMeer said...

A friend of mine took that class and loved it! I met Pam last year--she's so sweet.

BTW, the name "Screaming Guppy" is great. :)

The Screaming Guppy said...

Thanks Dawn!

And I agree - Pam is super cool! :)

Merc said...

Very interesting! Also, even unedited, the premise of your novel sounds very cool. ;) Definitely something I'd read.