Tense with Ron Currie Jr.

Learn how and why we write stiff, stilted prose, and what to do about it.

Your Instructor: Ron Currie Jr., author of "Everything Matters!"

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: September 26, 2019 - October 24, 2019

Enrollment:

Price: $325

Class Description

Get back in touch with those instincts, and start writing the kind of loose, entertaining sentences people actually want to read.

Somewhere along the line, somebody—likely a high school English Lit teacher—convinced our subconscious that real literature has to be highfalutin and self-serious, full of dense, stuffy prose. When we heed this lesson, though, we cut ourselves off from our storytelling instincts, the oral tradition that’s encoded in our DNA. In this four week course, Ron Currie Jr. will help you get back in touch with those instincts, and start writing the kind of loose, entertaining sentences people actually want to read.

What This Class Covers

Week One

Lecture: Think about when you’re telling a story out loud to a group of people. What do you emphasize, and what do you omit? What kind of language do you use? What holds your audience’s attention? How does it feel when you get it right?

And why, then, is it so different when you dedicate that same story to the page? Why do we write in a way we would never speak? Why does everything suddenly become so literary, most often to the story’s detriment?

Making allowances for a few immutable differences between spoken and written language, there is no compelling reason why the stories we tell out loud and the stories we write down should be all that different. They function in almost precisely the same way. They aim to light up the same areas of the brain, and create the deep, incomparable experience of an empathic response. It follows, then, that we should build them in the same way. And our building materials, of course, are our words. 

Exercise: Take a story you know well—real or imagined—and tell it to someone. The audience doesn’t matter, really; the key is to record yourself. Then take the same story and write it down. Compare the two versions, note where they differ and how, and ask yourself: why are you making different choices on the page? And are those differences to the benefit of the story itself? 

Week Two

Lecture: There’s a reason they call it writers’ block, and not storytellers’ block—what trips us up, bogs us down, and in severe cases makes us quit is more often our sentences, not our story. We bind ourselves (not to mention our characters and our plotlines) in linguistic straightjackets, then wonder why what we write feel constricted and lifeless. 

Exercise: Take a passage you’re not happy with from your book and view it through the lens of this course. Don’t pay too much attention to incident, action, dialogue—just look at the sentences themselves. Note their cadence, or lack thereof. Forget about the meanings of the words, and pay attention to how they sound. With all of this in mind, rewrite the passage, hearing it in your mind as you go. This should feel more like transcribing than actual writing. 

Week Three

Lecture: Everyone knows that when you’re nervous, you don’t perform well. If you’re nervous at the podium, your voice quavers and you forget what you’re trying to say. If you’re nervous on the golf course, you shank the drive off the tee and three-putt the shortest hole on the course. And if you’re nervous when you sit down to write, the story you could otherwise tell with aplomb eludes you. The paradox in writing, as in life, is that when we loosen our grip—when we stop worrying and striving and wanting so damn hard—a lot of what we’re after comes to us, seemingly of its own volition.

Exercise: You’ll articulate to yourself—on the page, concretely, and with comprehensive honesty—what it is about writing that makes you fearful, anxious, what have you. You may think you already know, but if you haven’t written about these fears, there’s a very good chance you don’t understand their nature—or how to deal with them—nearly as well as you think.    

Week Four

Lecture: And here comes the paradox—sometimes, when it serves the story, we actually want our prose to be stiff, awkward, even lifeless. What are the circumstances under which this becomes the correct narrative play? How do we deploy “bad” prose artfully? The secret lies not just in the sentences themselves, but in the signals we’re sending to the reader: that we’re writing “poorly” with intent, that there is something important to be gleaned from this decision, and most importantly, that we as the author are in control of the story, even when it appears, in a superficial way, that we aren’t writing well. 

Exercise: We’ll cook up scenarios in which stiff, stilted writing is indicated. Some examples: a first-person POV with a pompous sociopath. A long monologue from someone trying desperately to hide the truth. An exchange between strangers in a totalitarian society where people are disappeared for the slightest of oratory offenses. And so on. Through this exercise we’ll learn that writing stuffy prose well is harder than we think—but completely doable and, as we’ve seen, sometimes the only correct choice.    

Goals Of This Class

  • Identify the differences between oral storytelling and the written word, and where the two overlap
  • Learn to write sentences that have a natural cadence and flow
  • Condition yourself to relax, loosen your grip and just WRITE
  • Identify and understand what scares you about writing
  • Learn when it is necessary to actually stiffen up your prose

 

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