f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Random Bits of Advice

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, July 12, 2004

Random Bits of Advice

I have no theme for this week, nor did I finish any novel or work of Christian thinking over the weekend. (I did however read a food book called A Meal Observed by the uniquely named Andrew Todhunter, and should you like to discuss your favorite moments of food writing and/or meal descriptions you can here.)

Instead, I’m just going to throw out very random bursts of writing advice that I either forged in the fiery crucible of my own molten writing experience or simply glommed from other sources, some remembered, others long forgotten. (Results will vary by user and cannot be guaranteed. No refunds.)

Today’s piece of advice is the notion of recontextualization.

Lots of people will tell you, “Write what you know.” This bit of advice agrees with that, but only in part. I remember being taught this as a sophomore at Penn State, by my favorite writing instructor. His bit of instruction is that rather than try to recapture a specific moment that occurred in our lives, we should instead internalize the feeling/emotion for that moment and then allow them to come out in a new context.

His example came from his own life. He’d seen a man in a flower shop simply weeping uncontrollably as he bought flowers. It was a simple striking moment without explanation. Essayists would find something meaningful in that moment. The novelist, my professor explained, internalized that moment and then tapped into that volcanic (I’m all about volcanologic descriptors today) grief in some completely different, but emotionally-related context. Actors, I think, often use this same method.

I like the idea because recreating a specific moment is not the job of fiction. It had a time and place and both that time and place stood outside your story. The emotion, the power, the meaning—all those things are legitimate. But simply semi-autobiography may be too easy an answer.