If I haven’t stressed this enough in Creative Writing class: surprise me.
This week I handed out the short story assignment, and along with it gave a scintillating PowerPoint presentation about things not to write the short story about, a presentation comprising both some useful tidbits of advice inherited from my predecessor, Armin Wiebe, and some observations on unfortunate student writing trends during my thus-far teaching career.
Three trends I’m tired of:
1) Stories about cars. Car crashes, car chases, drunk driving, texting and driving. Mostly these are violent for the sake being violent, or moralistic (cue ironic text message popping up during fatal collision), or both.
2) Stories about drinking and/or drug use. Write stories where these things occur, sure, but I’ve seen so many where the bender is the main point. We are not William S. Burroughs.
3) Therapeutic stories about your ex.
It’s entirely understandable that students like writing about these things. Write what you know, right? And hey, isn’t there a lot of great literature falling into these categories? And where do I get off picking on item #3 especially, messed-up relationships being, essentially, the basis of all literature as we know it?
These things are hard to pull off precisely because they’ve been done so many times. Try to write them without resorting to clichés. It’s hard! Your best bet is to work on fantastic flippin’ characters. That way, they can go through as many hallucinogen-induced traumatic post-breakup car crashes as they want, and it’ll still be original because your characters are original.
Hey, there’s a thought. I dare something to write a story including all three of my ranted-against topics. And surprise me with it.