Guest Blogger: Sharif Shakhshir on Fiction Memory

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

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.


  1. Sharif

    Thanks everyone for reading. It was an honor to be the only guest blogger that Angela has ever had. I’ve done contributions for other writers, and I have to say that Angela is the classiest, most enthusiastic, and most professional person I’ve ever worked with.

  2. Bethany

    Great post! This blog & Angela’s writing are always so inspiring for me as a writer & blogger – I can’t get enough! Great to be introduced to Sharif and to Ron Carlson.

    • angelaejkoh


      I’m glad you dropped by since I got to look around your blog. Especially love the simple aesthetics and format you have. I hope you keep writing and updating or just sharing fun vids. Glad you enjoy the blog, and like you said, it’s tough to keep one running!

      Keep in touch,

  3. Michael J. Coene

    Nice blurb. I used to feel the same way about imagery (as in, used to feel it was cumbersome necessity). Then, one day, I noticed myself spending a lot more time on it. When I went back and read my stuff, to try and figure out way, I realized ALL of it was character-driven. I wasn’t spending more time on environment–it was still introspection, just enhanced.

    Love the format, by the way. It’s important to highlight important aspects, in this Twittery world we live in.

  4. Ellie

    Hi! These are such great thoughts on imagery, and now I’ll go back to my story and look at my setting/possessions with new eyes. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • angelaejkoh

      Thanks for commenting Ellie. I’ll have to have Sharif come back and contribute more. I’m hoping to have other guest posts as well for fiction and poetry. Hope you check back soon!

    • Hristina

      Awwwww Jaimie!!!! I love what you wrote. Thank you for letting me see YOU and I freaikn love the pictures you posted! I can’t wait to see more! Lets hang out lots and lots more

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