Monthly Archives: January 2012
Guest Post by Adele Annesi: Debunking the ‘Idea’ in Novel Writing: Dreamstorming and ‘From Where You Dream’
Writers of short and long fiction often say, “I’ve got an idea for a novel.” To advance your writing from craft to art, consider nixing the idea of the idea in favor of the dreamstorming technique pioneered by Pulitzer prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler and described in From Where You Dream.
Dreamstorming means taking time, not so much to think as to dream, to open yourself to your unconscious — that deep and hidden place where, Olen says, “what you forget goes into the compost of the imagination.” This approach casts aside the myth of writing as including abstraction, generalization, summary, analysis and interpretation. It’s meant to get beyond craft, especially for writers of long fiction, to art.
Learning to dreamstorm takes time. You need to get alone. Get quiet. Unplug. To familiarize yourself with the technique, consider this exercise in selecting details. Writers often ask editors how they can tell which details to include in a story and how extensive those details should be. The key is to avoid the superficial, and Butler’s dreamstorming approach is the perfection solution. So, try this exercise. Bring a pen and pad of paper (not your laptop or other e-device) to a quiet place — it could be a room in your home or someone else’s, or a local park. Quiet, in this sense, is more about being away from technology and those likely to interrupt than it is about sound. Close your eyes for a few moments. Give yourself time, then jot down what comes to mind. But jot, don’t expound.
Once you’ve jotted a few things down, go back over the list and replace the ambiguous words. Next to each word or phrase, add a phrase describing your emotional response to the sensory perception. Emotions, Butler says, are experienced and expressed in fiction in five basic ways: a sensual reaction inside the body, a sensual response outside the body, flashes of the past, flashes of the future and, most important, sensual selectivity. In this last lies the key to how to select and use details. Now go back over your list, and arrange the phrases in an order — it could be from less intense to most intense emotion, or from the top to the bottom of your field of vision. Craft a flash fiction or creative nonfiction piece using what you’ve written.
Dreamstorming, though a time-intensive technique to learn and practice, is worth the effort and can move the writeter from craft to art through the doorway of the dream.
Adele Annesi is an award-winning writer and editor. A former Scholastic editor, Adele is a freelance book editor and writer for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals. Her short fiction appeared in an anthology for Fairfield University, where she is studying for a Master’s in Fine Arts in fiction. Her flash fiction “Days of Obligation” was adapted for the stage by playwright and director Joanne Hudson. Adele also teaches writing and editing workshops, and she is currently writing a novel and a series of short stories set in Italy. Visit her at Adele M. Annesi and Word for Words.
There is an email going around showing side-by-side images of 1) hundreds of Muslims at prayer on a city street, foreheads to touching their prayer mats, and 2) Tim Tebow “tebowing” on the sidelines, genuflecting in prayer. The caption under Image 1 is: “Why is this OK?” The caption under Image 2 is: “And this isn’t?”
I think the originator of this email must have reversed the images.
Author/journalist Reza Aslan, interviewed on PBS News Hour on Sept. 10, 2010, cited a Washington Post poll showing that half of Americans have a negative view towards Islam, a more than 7 percent jump from the months right after 9/11. An ABC News poll released about the same time showed that 55 percent of Americans don’t have a good understanding of Islam, 31 percent of Americans believe that mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims, and 49 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam.
A year later — just a few months ago — a “What It Means to Be American” poll found that 8 in 10 Americans believe that self-proclaimed Christians who commit violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christians; but only 48 percent say that self-proclaimed Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam are not really Muslims. Why the double standard?
Overwhelmingly, Americans believe that “America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular.” But 47 percent believe that Islam is at odds with American values, versus 48 percent disagreeing.
It all adds up to a general distrust of Islam.
The answer to the two questions is, “They’re both OK — praying to Allah and tebowing.” But that’s just the surface question. The implied sub-question is, “Why is it OK for these terrorists to pray in public on our city streets after they killed 3,000 of our citizens?”
The implication to the implied question is that most people want to permit Muslim terrorists to mock us by practicing their religion openly, but that it’s wrong for an American football player to do so. As the polls cited above show, that’s not how most Americans think. Most Americans think like the originator of the email. And that’s pretty scary.