Sorry for the title, by the way. It is late, I felt the urge to blog, and I am somewhat incoherent.
In all seriousness, having the opportunity to attend the Writer-to-Writer talk was phenomenal, especially for the experimental piece I am currently working on. With Dr Shelley Manis interviewing Dr Heather Ann Thompson in an independently-owned book store, Literati, local to Ann Arbor. Throughout the entire talk, I had not heard of this book before (my fault) and had not heard of Dr Thompson prior either (also my fault). The modest space, surrounded by bookcases and the store’s quaint decor, allowed me to be included in the conversation, as if I was in a dialogue with Dr Thompson herself. The comfortableness of the space, too, gave me the confidence to ask my question (though I did nervously fumble a few words once all the faces turned to me).
‘Helllloooo, loved the talk by the way. I really liked that ‘torture’ theme you mentioned earlier. So, when you are in the writing process and are trying to balance in-between from being too vague or too explicit–and choosing what to intentionally include or exclude in your writing–whilst still trying to empathise with and immerse your reader, how do you decide what you want to keep in your writing?’
That is a lot of words. Basically, I was asking, ‘how do you decide what to include or exclude in your writing and how do you avoid being either too vague or too explicit?’
Her response hit home the point of ‘setting up’ your reader to know what is going to happen. I found this concept to be interesting. Dr Thompson highlighted the age-old concept of ‘show, don’t tell,’ as she described her writing process in detail. For example, setting the vibes of a scene or the character’s appearance, etc., all can enable the reader to already connect and feel the scene without it even happening. As she pulled up the example of a gory torture scene from a recent movie, she described how properly setting up the scene to the reader can convey the emotions of the event without having the event explicitly happen. This allows the reader to easily predict what is going to happen, based on a scene that is possibly just a few seconds before the plot’s climax. I think this is great advice to keep in mind when trying to stir up the reader’s emotions, through symbolism and metaphors versus explicit behaviours and actions.
My favourite takeaway from this (especially being a strong supporter of the feminist theory!) is when an audience member asked her a question about the intersection of her social identities when writing Blood in the Water: what is it like to be a white woman writing a book like Blood in the Water (which describes the experiences of people-of-colour)?
Dr Thompson said that, as a white woman who has convenient access to resources to research these issues, she has an obligation. Dr Thompson’s voice raised with a strong fervor as she said that, and the energy and passion (which was one her favourite words, by the way) vibrated throughout the room.
She really did make history come alive.
You can see the Michigan Daily article that covered the talk, too!