“The Reviews are In — And They Are Crafty”

A few weeks ago, I participated in a “boot camp” offered by Writer’s Digest, “Agent One-on-One: How to Craft Query Letters & Other Submission Materials That Get Noticed.” The repeated focus on “story” contrasted that of my previous writing experience, with its emphasis on literary craft. Over and over, the participating agents said, “We want to know that you can tell a story.” Perhaps my previous experience created within me the expectation that everyone just wanted to know that I could write a good sentence. Maybe I created that expectation myself. In any case, this boot camp got me thinking about how the story can sometimes be ignored in the literary/MFA world while other elements take center stage.

 

And all that led to this, my imagining my reviews, written by literary craft obsessed readers. Here goes:

“For quote attribution, no one uses said better than Brown. Brilliant!”

“He could’ve written slowly walked, but instead Brown writes strolled. Boo-yah!”

“Every character only uses age-appropriate vocabulary. You won’t have a six-year-old saying aspirate. Brown nails it.”

“I haven’t seen a writer understand show/tell this well since my kindergarten days.”

“You won’t find Brown using exclamation points unnecessarily. Win!”

 

Yes, I’m sure as literary agents look at my query and synopsis, they are evaluating whether or not I can “write” (whatever that means), but the emphasis seems more on whether I can tell a compelling, structured story. I wonder if workshops might begin with people pitching their story ideas—and having those stories discussed—before going into the world of craft. At my MFA, one of the faculty members said that there are two types of writers: those that write a great sentence and those that tell a great story. I always aimed for that “writing a great sentence” kind of brilliance, but now I wonder: If the story sucks or is non-existent, what’s the point?

 

Randall Brown

About Randall Brown

Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and teaches at the MFA in Creative Program at Rosemont College.




  • Dean Marshall Tuck

    I often wonder the same thing, Randall. “Did things happen?” is a simple question my editor brain asks when looking back at drafts. And the “funny” thing is, reading students’ creative work, I think to myself, “Dang, there’s like a dozen more interesting things that could’ve happened right here.” But I could just as easily look back at any old story of mine where people just shift around a boring town and say stuff to each other. Whoop-dee-doo.
    I’ve been thinking about creativity during the generative stage of drafting, and I think for me, I’m probably not all that creative when it comes to plot if I’m going with the “writing without a plan” method. Lately, I’ve been experimenting more with a lot of up-front daydreaming and outlining before drafting.

  • Randall Brown

    Me, too, Dean: lots of daydreaming before drafting. I find that these days that constitutes more “writing” for me than the sitting down at the computer. I mean that in a good way. Driving around, in the shower, any pause in the day I’m thinking about the story, putting different scenarios in each “slot.” I like that question, “Did things happen?” It gets right to the heart of the matter.