On the first day of each new quarter, I tell whatever creative writing class that I happen to be teaching that there are five rules which must never be broken while in my class. After reading this well-reasoned story in the Boston Globe (link via the OG Bookslut), I'm reminded why, exactly, I have these rules -- specifically, I'm reminded by this passage:
Novelist Douglas Bauer, currently the writer-in-residence at Smith, asked his creative writing students what their memories were of early high school English. They loved Twain, Poe, John Irving, Haruki Murakami, he reports, but rolled their eyes at ''The Great Gatsby." Bauer was dumbfounded. How could they miss the allure of this haunting classic?
Because they were forced on pain of death to expound on the meaning of the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock. Enter the Godzilla of high school English -- the dreaded metaphor. ''Why the obsession with the green light? Because it's the way the teachers were taught," says Bauer.
The goddamned metaphor is the bane of my existence. Oh, now, realize that I write them, certainly, though I don't think I do it with any kind of forethought, they just occur. But the need to point it out, expound on it, explore it until the story lacks all the originality and heart it once had, no thanks. My rules are simple. When workshopping these terms and actions are never allowed to occur:
1. The word motif. As in, "What was the motif you were aiming for with this story of alien sexbots?" Not for nothing, but really, who gives a fuck?
2. The term vis-a-vis. If you regularly say vis-a-vis in conversation, you are pretentious. No two ways around it. If you use vis-a-vis while workshopping -- as in, "Vis-a-vis the alien sexbot and the bounty hunter sent to eradicate it," -- you are also the kind of person who will someday later in life wear tweed to the extent that neighborhood kids will fear you, will tell stories about you long after your death, and one day they'll see your ghost as just a mist appearing outside of the men's suits department at Sears and they will fear you, your tweed, and the scent of Gray Flannel cologne.
3. Air quotes. Are you directly quoting? Are you using a word out of context? Are the rest of the people in the room rudimentary sign language users? We're writers. We understand context and significance when you speak. If you don't believe this is true, try Air Underlining or Air Italics next time.
4. The word theme. See motif. And then get your head out of your ass. Who cares about theme? I mean, really, when you walk into Barnes & Noble, do you say, "I'd like to find a book today with a really good theme," or when you see an ad on TV for a new movie like, say, Sahara, do you immediately begin wondering about how cool the theme will be? No. No you don't. Do you know why? Because it is bullshit you learned in high school because your teacher was lazy. I had a student last quarter that I rather liked personally, but her story suffered because she kept talking about getting the metaphor and theme right, until finally I said, "Who gives a fuck about theme and metaphor? Let's see a show of hands." No one raised their hands -- well, okay, one person did, but she dropped the class with two weeks left, so she doesn't count -- and I said, "No one gives a fuck about theme and metaphor except high school English teachers." I then remembered, uh, yeah, she was a high school English teacher.
5. The term, "But that's how it really happened." A few quarters ago, someone said this during week three and I responded, as I'm wont to do, "I don't give a fuck about how it really happened, this is fiction." The student subsequently began to cry, which is never good, because, well, I never want people to cry because that just sucks, and then I had to stop the class an explain exactly why I don't give a fuck, which made the person cry even more. So here's the deal: if you want to write what really happened, write nonfiction.