Chapter 4 – Fiction Techniques

My other core class, Fiction Techniques, was designed to get everyone thinking about how they could use imagery, metaphor, description, point-of-view, and the like, in their stories. Our teacher was a photocopy fiend. She had endless examples of extraordinary feats which was humbling to say the least. That wasn’t a bad thing and it wasn’t done in a mean way. It was only a reminder that no matter how long we had been writing, we should always be looking for new ways of expressing ourselves and trying to improve our writing.

We read a variety of short stories that were more international in flavor for most of the techniques and Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger for an unusual example of point of view. She had us do some speed writing too, which I’ll talk about later. We also had a test-run of a workshop environment.

The class was more mixed age-wise than my other class which I suppose was due to the fact that it was at the Washington D.C. campus at DuPont circle. I liked going over to D.C. once a week but I had a hard time making it to class on time from Baltimore. Everything had to work out perfectly for me to be sitting at my desk at precisely 6:00.

First, I needed to get to work north of Baltimore as early as I could using my flextime option and I had to plan out my workday so I could leave precisely at four. If something came up, an urgent email or my boss stopped by for a last minute chat, I ended up leaving at 4:30 and had to count on making time up in the traffic. In Maryland, most people drive at least ten miles over the speed limit so it is possible to make good time but it was still more like throwing dice than playing Black Jack. No amount of maneuvering could assure me that traffic on highway 295 wouldn’t be blocked by drivers “rubber-necking” an accident or a camera crew or just talking on their phones. My teacher was sympathetic most of the time.

I was always there for our in-class exercises when she would give us five, fifteen, or maybe half-an-hour to write. Speed writing was an idea that I’d read about and I do think that helped me create a “writing mode” where I could sit down and start writing without waiting for inspiration.

The exercises that my teacher used in class were similar to the old barn exercise that you can find in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I didn’t read that book until after I finished my degree because I didn’t find out about it until then. The book is pretty good but you really need to skip over the parts about talent. That sounded like a lot of BS to me. The exercises however, are amazing and it’s definitely one of my favorite books about writing and a great handbook for teachers.



About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
This entry was posted in Graduate Writing Programs, Johns Hopkins University, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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