Sharif Shakhshir: AA Language Arts, Mount San Antonio. BA English/Creative Writing, University of California Irvine. Poetry Instructor at El Sol Academy in Santa Ana. Jar Prose/Poetry Editor. Graphic Novel Enthusiast. Contact email@example.com
Ron Carlson is intense. My workshop with the man was the most hilarious and fucking frightening class I’ve ever taken. The biggest thing that I got from Carlson is a philosophy of looking at a story as characters interacting within an interactive physical environment. An example: every room has a temperature, which may or may not impose itself upon the characters and their fighting/loving/tire-changing. Most beginning writers fail to keep these environments alive. If a room is unbearably hot on page 1, then the writer needs to keep reminding his reader that it’s hot through page 10. Using story memory to bring back these conditions and repeated objects (in screen writing these things are called “complications”) makes one’s imagery dynamic. From Carlson, I understood that story memory gives one’s characters agency or antagonism, and most importantly it gives the writer agency.
I think the biggest mistake that I’ve seen from conversations with web cartoonists as well as my experience with fiction is that people do not see imagery as being a part of the writing. It’s a chore for the sake of decoration or believability, rather than a device for storytelling. However, the writer’s imagery creates subtext (talking about it without talking about it). Imagery makes commentary on your characters or situational changes over time. For example, if a man goes to his elementary school he went to as a child, he will have a different experience as an adult. The difference matters. You know the whole “Songs of Innocence and Experience” deal.
ph. by Erin Rose
The writer who sees imagery as something he must do to ground his work rather than as an opportunity, lacks proper perspective. Possessions define characters (Is he a Mac or a PC?). Possessions also become a part of us–gaining sentimental value so much so that we feel very personal pain if we lose it. I mean, I baby my car. It’s a gold 1993 Saturn SW2. My parents were the first owners. We went on our trips to the beach back when my family was happy to see each other for reasons other than a needed favor. There’s some illogical belief in me that when this car is gone, that the last bit of this old family will be gone as well. Then, what slowly tears at me with every rattle and every worn belt is that GM stopped making parts for my car. This dent-resistant little trooper that I used to race against my friends with old Honda Civics on Pomona streets is slowly falling apart. And at that point I will feel like I’m throwing away my youth, or what my family used to be. That’s what this item, this scene, this piece of inventory can be if a writer knows an opportunity when he sees it.