Friday, May 25, 2012

Using "Artistic License" Responsibly (Lesson Learned)

Langston Hughes
Taken by Carl Van Vechten
     I owe you an apology. I posted my essay called "Judged Judge" on my blog. "Essay" implies non-fiction. Little did I know that "Judged Judge" couldn't be classified as non-fiction--it must be called fiction.
     Are you asking, "Christy, how could you mistake fiction for non-fiction?" Well, a little thing called "Artistic License" had me all confused. Let me explain how I learned this lesson. Maybe it will help you avoid such embarrassment!    
     *Note: If you're wondering why I've put a picture of Langston Hughes, read on, read on...
     First of all, what is artistic license? It is license for the artist (hah) to distort the facts in a factual piece of writing. Does that sound bad? It can be, if used wrong--but sometimes it is necessary.
     I'll use an example from my story (Judged Judge, the one I labeled as "essay") to explain ethical usage of Artistic license. If you read my story, you'll remember that I described a "shotgun" wedding. Now, we live in a small county, and I did not want people to divine the participants in this wedding. It could be embarrassing for them, yeah? So I used artistic license: I changed some of the details of the wedding to make it unrecognizable. Not so bad, right?
     Here's where I went wrong with Artistic License. Because this essay was to be written almost entirely in dialogue, I took another liberty: in my story, I wrote about Maisely. Maisely does not exist as a single entity in real life--she is a conglomeration of wonderful people and advice. She is, in large part, a man, and a pair of wise women. I could introduce you to two of these people; the other has passed away. So, the conversation recorded in my story actually occurred before the wedding with friends, in my head during the wedding, or afterwards with one of those three friends; I combined them in order to organize my memories into a coherent essay. I wrote my thoughts and my friends' words into an organized conversation for the purpose of the essay, because I needed dialogue.
     However, this is not non-fiction anymore. To me, it seemed a subtle difference. After all, the point of creative non-fiction is to be creative, right? And the point of an essay is to organize a thesis. The conversations, the wedding, and my epiphany all happened. I gave my honest thoughts, feelings, and worries. I looked appropriately buffoonish for judging too quickly...but I didn't stick close enough to reality for it to be considered "non-fiction."
     I learned about my mistake after talking to my essay instructor. I asked her specifics about the essay in question, and she clarified for me. Thank you, Professor Dixon!
     "Artistic License" helped me out a lot in this memoir. It is an important, useful tool when writing memoirs...but it must be used carefully. A writer should never lie to their readers. There are lots of examples of using artistic license unethically, though. I would argue that A Million Little Pieces by James Frey should not be categorized as a memoir because he fabricated many of the events for no reason beyond creating a dramatic story. He could have written a novel, if he wanted to do this ethically.
     I hope this overview of artistic license frees you up to write your story into meaningful memoirs, using creative license ethically. If you're still not convinced, read on!
Lots of Resources Today
     For a famous example of someone who did something similar to what I did (except his was awesome and totally legit), read "Bop" by Langston Hughes. It's about 3 pages long. I actually based my own essay on his style, here. You can order it in an anthology for free from the library. Just type in your library card number and the last four digits of your phone number.
     For more information on Artistic License, check out these resources. Click here for a Wikipedia article on artistic license. For a conservative approach to using creative license, click here. For a liberal approach to using artistic license (which I disagree with), click here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

On May 19th, Come Party like a Playwright! Or Poet! Or Author!

     This post was supposed to be about using Artistic License properly, but I found a problem with the material. If I can get it worked out (working on it right now!), I will post it later in the week. For now, here's some literary news!
     1) Tomorrow (May 19th, 2012), at Mendocino College in Ukiah, two exciting things are happening for writers or other literary buffs. The first is a free writer's conference called "LitFest." It runs from 10AM-4PM. Published authors and poets will give workshops on several interesting subjects. I am PSYCHED! The college is on 1000 Hensley Creek Road. If you would like more information, click here!
     2) Both tonight and tomorrow, the Mendocino College Theatre Arts Department will be showing the Festival of New Plays! Nine new 10 min. plays written by local playwrights were chosen from a large admission pool of entries. (I know the poster says 10 plays, but one play was dropped). Guess whose play got picked for the (3rd? or 4th) year in a row? Teresa Loesch! Come support Teresa and her play-writing group. Cost is $5. The show starts at 8PM. Click here for more info. (Disclaimer: Some of the material may be inappropriate for children.)
     3) The Library Book Sale is tomorrow! Woooooohoooooo! Here's  the deal: A couple weeks ago, I post that it ran from 10AM-4PM. I was WRONG. It's from 12PM-4PM. Sorry about that, folks! Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 11, 2012

What do you mean, "Not all essays are boring"?

     Essays are an unpopular form of writing--probably because we've all been forced to write them in school. And, mostly because my own essays were dead boring, I thought all essays would be, including published works.
     It's not true! Through Regent University, I took a class called "The Art of the Essay." It changed my entire perspective on the genre. Essays can be absolute firecrackers! Observational or funny. Witty, tragic, thoughtful! Where can we find these masterful works? Read on to find out. This semester, I also realized some major benefits of learning the art of the essay. What are these benefits? And, last of all, how can we begin to craft our own unique writing voices and riveting techniques? 
     I'm sure we all remember writing essays like "What I did over Summer vacation" and "An Embarrassing Experience." Boring. BORING! But that's not how it has to be. William James said essays were "The Moral Equivalent of War."
     In class, I learned about non-academic essays (have you ever heard of such a thing? I hadn't!), and how different they look from the average school slop. They can be treatises, but they can also be stories. Memoirs, to be specific. All the essays I read this semester came from an anthology called The Best American Essays of the Century, with Joyce Carol Oates and edited by Robert Atwan. They blew my mind! Then, even better than reading powerful essays, we learned to write them as well! I had to share this with my blog readers, of course! ;)
     Why might you want to write an essay like this? There are a few reasons. For one, it is a polished, powerful form of journaling. You can keep records of important moments in your life by writing them into memoir essays. The second reason is that we never really understand life events unless we explain them. Author and philosopher Dorothy L. Sayers says it like this, "You only experience a thing when you can express it--however haltingly--to your own mind" (85). We have to work it out for ourselves. Sayers also explains that this type of expression changes a person so that "he no longer feels himself battered passively by the impact of external events" (86). I'm going to keep up this fabulous excercise.
     Nobody likes to be judged, and yet people like to judge. This conundrum, which applies very much to me (sadly), was the subject of a creative non-fiction essay I recently wrote. If you would like to read it, click here.

Christy Dares You #4

     Pick an essay from the late 19th Century or early 20th. My recommendation? "How it Feels to be Colored Me" by Zora Neale Hurston (click here to read it for free). To read other essays of this awesome genre for free, click here.
     Then, write an essay in the style of the author you read. Notice the level of vocabulary, the length of the sentences, the types of sensory details and images. It's hard--but push yourself. Organize. Polish. You'll be happy with the result. If you would like to exchange your work with me, I'd love to partner in critiques with you!

Works Cited
     For those searching for a Christian worldview concerning literature, I highly recommend the essay cited below as a conservative source (you can order it from the library):

"Sayers, Dorothy L. "Towards A Christian Esthetic." The Whimsical Christian. New York:    
     Macmillan, 1979. Print."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Upcoming Library Events: Interior Designing Class & Book Sale

     Have I got goodies for YOU today! I'll explain at the end why this week's post is early. Let's start with the good stuff!

Free Interior Design Class @ Library
     Do ever wonder how to color your walls/accessories/appliances/shelving so they look cooridnated?Thinking about summer renovations, maybe? On Wednesday, May 9th, the library will be hosting a FREE class on how to color your house! And I don't mean with crayons! Interior designer Robert Boccabella will lead the class. I know my decorating skills are--erm--less than "great," so I'm excited to hear from the expert. This class will start at 6PM and run until 7:30PM.

Book Sale @ Library
     Paperbacks for $.50, Hardcovers for $1.00! And they have good stuff--at previous sales, I've found Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, ALL the Harry Potters and tons of other great reads. I've used several for gifts, too, because they *looked* brand new. All for a dollar or under. This sale will happen on Saturday May 19th, FROM 10am-4pm, put on by the Friends of the Library (<3 them! seriously!). Come support our library by practically stealing great books, with a happy conscience!

Why The Post is Early This Week
     Keviste and I are heading out to see a wedding (a sort-of wedding, actually--lovely couple--Congrats Kyle and Hope Forti!) and stay a few days in Monterey and Carmel. So. Early post!
     Next week will be special. On top of the long-promised writing tip, I will be posting one of my favorite essays from class last semester. It's a creative non-fiction essay (so, a story based on a memory, with a thesis weaved in) in which I contemplate the meaning of judgment.
     See you then, friends!