First assignment

CRW 274 Spring 2011

Those of you who recall the Tim O’Brien essay I circulated last year, and those who remain awake during my occasional rants, know that what I most decry, in baldly commercial writing, in MFA programs, and in much student writing – well, okay, in all writing – is lack of imagination: a failure to visualize, to squint in such a way that the world shows itself in new and interesting ways;  a failure to go beyond the usual, the serviceable, surfaces.

Reject the first thought that comes to you – then reject the second.  Visualize.  Peel back the covering.  Anticipation and (!) surprise.  Use the surround to mirror states of mind.  All things you’ve heard and will hear again and again, and all intended to encourage you to loosen up, to feel and see instead of think, to refuse to play it safe, to use your imagination.

Below are two headlines from today’s news, just as they appeared.  Your assignment is to write the first two pages of a story derived from each of these.  It’s not to be a story in and of itself, just the beginning, just enough to get us into it, carry us along, build up our anticipations.  The assignment is due on February 14th.



I hope that, just as when beginning one of your actual stories, you will go through the necessary self-interrogation, considering the broad range of narrative possibilities:

1. How much of the story do I want to tell?
2. Where do I begin?
3. Whose story is it?

Sit still and try to feel your way into a story before you begin writing.  Identify with a character, or with a narrator; watch things from in there.


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