Questionable Fridays


I’ve been thinking. Yes, again.

I won’t be teaching any more after this summer’s McD class ends, and that’ll be good because I absolutely hate grading things. Hate it. The first rule of teaching creative writing is “First, do no harm,” and grading or evaluating too often does harm. I think I mutilated a student last term. Not happy about that. On the other hand, people want honest feedback, not patted on the head. It’s just too damn hard and too damn depressing. So it’s good that I’m getting out.

BUT I love answering questions because questions make me think. Also that’s where real teaching takes place, discussing things. That’s where I do a lot of figuring out what I really think. And when students challenge my answers, that’s even better because that’s when I learn a lot. So questions, yes, I’m going to miss questions. Which is when I thought, “I could do that on Argh.”

Here’s the thing, though: questions only work when they lead to discussions. Which means it would have to be one post per question. I’m good with that because I’m assuming there won’t be that many questions, so I just have to figure out how to get the questions. Which is what this post is about.

Anybody have a question they’d like to talk about? I’m assuming it would be about writing since I know nothing about cars or welding, but I’m open to something else. Also, is this a good idea? Because my usual method of posting is “I find this interesting and I’m sure other people would, too, so here goes.” Needless to say, sometimes those miss, so starting with somebody’s question would at least guarantee that one person would be interested. Probably. I dunno. It’s Friday night and I’m full of brownies and I have a lot of grading ahead of me (oh god) so this could also just be a stalling tactic. Which is another reason it would be good if people did questions/requests.

What do you think?

Filed in Deep Thoughts

59 Comments to 'Questionable Fridays'

On January 24, 2014 at 8:59 pm Jinx said...

I think this is a great idea. Takes some of the onus off you to dream up new topics, puts some on us to come up with good useful questions. And keeps the overall focus on the writing process without forcing lecture syllabi or topic sentences on anybody.

I have a topic that I would love to hear you talk about but I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing you mean — it’s another writer who describes a really really different way to go about developing story from the whole plot-focused beat method.

But to make sense it might require somebody to have read something by that person to respond. Does that get too weedy and/or specialized for the kind of thing you had in mind?

Thumb up 0

On January 24, 2014 at 9:09 pm Jenny said...

I’m not sure what you mean. If you want to describe the approach and then ask what we all think of it, it sounds like a great question.

Thumb up 0

On January 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm Deborah Blake said...

I love this idea! (And not just because I love the idea of teaching without grades…although I do.)
Here’s one:
I know you’ve talked a lot about your creative process with storyboarding (is that a word?) and collages and such. I don’t tend to use such things, but I’m starting to make Word docs for each novel that include pictures of my protagonists, and other notable stuff (their dogs, cars, motorcycles). Can you talk a little bit about how you create and organize your pictorial “notes”?

Thumb up 3

On January 24, 2014 at 11:06 pm Jenny said...

Absolutely. Brace yourself for software geekery for the Mac, though. And trips to Staples and Home Depot.

Thumb up 4

On January 25, 2014 at 11:41 am Deborah Blake said...

Sadly, I don’t have a Mac. Hopefully some of the geekery will translate to PC. Also sadly, we don’t have a Staples here. We do, however, have an OfficeMax, and both a Home Depot and a Lowes… Am I going to be building something?

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm Jenny said...

Both Home Depot and Lowes have white board, not the expensive framed kind but just the board, so you can get 2′x4′ pieces that are portable if you don’t have a big wall or, if you do have a big wall, a 4′x8′ piece for about $35 instead of the hellaciously expensive framed ones. Home Depot online also has roll cork to put cork boards anywhere. And so much more.

Thumb up 3

On January 25, 2014 at 7:18 pm Deborah Blake said...

I have a white board and s small cork board. They’re already pretty full. Apparently I now need more wall.

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 8:33 pm JulieB/Julie Spahn said...

I have a Mac, and I know I’m not using it to it’s full capacity, because I learned PC first. I would LOVE Mac stuff. I know I’m not even scratching the surface of what it does. I have had it for 2 or 4 or maybe 4 years, so I think I’m way past the point of free classes. I know this will apply, at best to 50% of your audience at probably more than 50% of you audience is beyond what I know, but that’s my two cents.

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 8:41 pm Jenny said...

Well, Mac is all I know so I’m hopeless with any PC recommendations anyway.

Thumb up 0

On January 24, 2014 at 9:19 pm AnnG said...

Hello there. I like your idea about the questions, as it usually also lead to discussions in our house. But I also love the other posts, and comments, and wonderful turns that everyone takes. Your blog feels very much like a community. 😊 Will you still post Cherry Saturday, and other random thoughts? I will still follow, because you rock. I’m just curious.

Thumb up 3

On January 24, 2014 at 11:04 pm Jenny said...

Cherry Saturday is permanent.
Random thoughts are pretty much my life, so that’ll still be there.
And this is a community which is why the comments are always the best part and why I thought maybe the community would like some say in what gets posted instead of whatever I’m obsessing on at the moment. I figure one more Arrow post and people will start throwing things.

Thumb up 3

On January 26, 2014 at 10:09 am KM Fawcett said...

After you got me hooked on Doctor Who and Sherlock, I said I would not watch another show. (I tend to get obsessive and do marathons when I should be writing.) I tried and tried to avoid Arrow but finally broke down after the first meet post. I’m now watching every episode of Arrow. I blame you Jenny for my obsessive/ addictive TV viewing. Why do you keep turning me on to great shows?!? At least I was still able to get book #3′s proposal off to my agent. I’m learning I don’t need to watch the whole season in a week. ;

Thumb up 1

On January 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm Jenny said...

Life on Mars, the UK version. (Only sixteen episodes.)
Person of Interest
The Blacklist

I could go on, but that should hold you for awhile.

Thumb up 1

On January 26, 2014 at 9:04 pm KM Fawcett said...

Ha ha. You know I’ll be checking those out. Someone else was enticing me to watch Intelligence. Josh Holloway is in it. And I loved him in LOST. Oh and when Outlander comes to Starz in the Summer, I’ll be watching that too.

Thumb up 0

On January 24, 2014 at 10:16 pm Courtney said...

I would love for you to talk about writing in deep POV or any other writing topic that you think you’d like to teach us about. You explain things so wonderfully and clearly that your blogs are always a joy to read and I always come away with some new insight.

*** retreating to lurker status now :-) **

Thumb up 3

On January 24, 2014 at 11:05 pm Jenny said...

Deep POV. Sure. Was there a specific question? Or just “talk about deep POV”?

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 11:43 am Deborah Blake said...

Hmmm…is there a “shallow” POV? (Hey, it’s opposites day here now. Besides, that’s the way my brain works…)

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm Jenny said...

Yep. Also known as “POV.”

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 10:22 pm Courtney said...

I think that I know what deep POV is but I struggle with drafting my stories that way. I inevitably end up having to fix most of the POV in revisions. So, my first question is how to get deep POV in the first draft? And then my second is, in revisions, how to check that I’m staying in deep POV. Thanks!

Thumb up 0

On January 24, 2014 at 11:04 pm Lurker Status said...

Love this idea! I’m curious to hear what questions are out there.

Thumb up 1

On January 24, 2014 at 11:31 pm Jenny said...

Pokey, is that you?

Thumb up 0

On January 24, 2014 at 11:32 pm Another Courtney said...

I’m not really a writer, but I love the discussions here on pretty much any book, TV show or movie (and have discovered more than a few because of this blog). I was, once upon a brief time, a Critical Studies (in Film) major at USC, so I used to dissect these things all the time, if for different reasons than you do here. Now I mostly just lurk, but it is glorious lurking. In other words, talk about whatever you want; I’ll keep coming back.

***lurking device: reactivated***

Thumb up 3

On January 24, 2014 at 11:57 pm Jenny said...

We have to start a rescue program for lurkers. Come out of the underbrush! We’re really very nice here! We have cookies!

Thumb up 12

On January 24, 2014 at 11:45 pm carolc said...

Love this idea! I love it any time you talk about writing, because I always learn so much. You could ask for questions once a week or once a month and then pick a question to discuss on Friday.

Thumb up 1

On January 24, 2014 at 11:58 pm Jenny said...

I figure if this works, I’ll set up a post for questions once a month and see how that goes. Then whenever I need a break from real work, I’ll pick a question and play with it.

Thumb up 2

On January 24, 2014 at 11:45 pm Kelly said...

You shared an ABC writing exercise once – the goal was to write a short story where each sentence began in ABC order – and that structure example helped me a lot with writer’s block. Anything you can share on getting from idea to story, on getting words on the page, etc.. would be great. Also… can you share advice for writers who have difficulty writing dialogue? Thank you!!! This blog is like a master’s writing class. I love reading what you write about writing.

Thumb up 3

On January 26, 2014 at 4:42 am Micki said...

We had so much fun in class with the ABC writing exercise! I wonder if you could “assign” an exercise every once in a while, and maybe those who wish to share can put them in a dropbox? I don’t know if I could play every time, but I do know I learned a lot from that one about how word choices shape a story.

Thumb up 1

On January 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm Jenny said...

I am never going to collect exercises or assignments again as long as I live. Really.

Thumb up 2

On January 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm Dre Sanders said...

I would love for you to expound on beats, and how you arrange your scenes with them. Do you track every beat? How do you use them to raise the stakes? What exactly do you consider a beat? I ask this because I’ve read a half dozen different descriptions of beats. Or you can talk about any craft topic because I always learn something. Terrific idea.

Thumb up 2

On January 25, 2014 at 11:46 am Deborah Blake said...

Your workshop at RWA where you talked about beats changed my life. (Well, it improved my writing massively, which changed my life. So there.) I now do a scene-by-scene breakdown of the story, and check for beats. Maybe you can talk about that? (And how if there isn’t a beat, you’ve got a problem.)

Thumb up 3

On January 25, 2014 at 2:19 am carolc said...

Oops. I forgot to ask a question. Mine is more of a request. Conflict. I am still struggling with conflict.

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 3:29 am Jenny said...

Okay, can you narrow that down? And make it a question? People write books on conflict. Do you want to know what it is? What it does?

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 4:46 pm carolc said...

I know what it is. Well, maybe. I thought I know what it is but I have so many questions maybe I don’t. It’s the conflict in every scene that throws me for a loop. What about romance? Yes, there needs to be conflict or it’s boring, but if it’s all conflict, I can’t buy them having a HEA. Doesn’t there need to be some parts where they are in accord? What about after the Big Bad Thing has happened? I would think the character needs to react, to process the loss, before he/she can think what to do next, especially if it is a major loss. And if the scene begins when the conflict starts and ends when the conflict stops, when does the reader get a breather?

I understand the definition of conflict, but … Man, I can’t even come up with a coherent question. How about – How do you use conflict? Especially the more subtle ways.

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 2:27 am S said...

‘Premise’. ‘Theme’. And the ‘Central Story Question’. Always hear these terms and blank out. Are they the same thing? How do you use them practically to make your work better? Are they things you think about upfront or try and pick out from a completed rough draft? How do they involve the characters?
***also retreating to lurkdom***

Thumb up 2

On January 25, 2014 at 3:36 am Jenny said...

My god, Lurkdom must be larger than I thought.
Thank you for the question.

Thumb up 6

On January 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm MJ said...

Lurkers? We are legion.

Thumb up 9

On January 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm Jenny said...

Oh. So demons.
I’ll just go over here now.

Thumb up 5

On January 25, 2014 at 8:03 am Sure Thing said...

Thanks to Oliver Burkeman and a link he posted, I’ve framed all my resolutions as questions… as in… How can I be a better friend and have more quality time with the friends I’ve already got?

Questions take the pressure off. It’s not a goal that’s pass/fail and one you feel despondent about if you don’t reach. It becomes a process that you can achieve. The best bit? It becomes collaborative. You’re more likely to ask for help and people are more likely to offer help.

Thumb up 5

On January 25, 2014 at 8:09 am Gin said...

I love that idea — of posting resolutions as questions. It doesn’t lock you into something that might not be quite what you really want to accomplish, and leaves the door open to tangents that might be better.

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 9:28 am Lola said...

This is a great idea.
I’d love to have a discussion on the use of the doppelganger and how to use it and for what end. How heavy or how subtle to use it. I doubt if you’re still watching Sleepy Hollow. The writing has gone into heavy exposition territory and I’m sure many shoes were thrown at the finale. But I see a doppelganger with sister Jenny and Henry Parish and I want to go “OH, look! did anyone catch that?” But it’s very subtle and most regular viewers wouldn’t catch it if they’re not into craft. If you’d like to discuss that show or any show that has a good doppelganger going on, I’d love to discuss it someday.

Thanks for doing this. If you want to post random thoughts about being a writer and how to keep the momentum going and protect the work, I’ll all for it too.

Thumb up 1

On January 25, 2014 at 1:46 pm Jenny said...

I love Sleepy Hollow.

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm Lola said...

That’s great. Now we can talk about how Jenny should have been the protagonist of the show and not perfect Abby. ;)

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm Jenny said...

I love Abby, she’s one of my favorite characters on TV, but Jenny’s great, too. It’s kind of nice to have the center of the show be sane, determined, and not angry. Of course, now she’s stuck in purgatory and Jenny’s trapped under a car . . .

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 6:12 pm Lola said...

Now see, that’s a craft question there. I see Abby as too perfect and Jenny as the one with the flaws and vulnerability and the one who has the most potential for growth and change. Perhaps add What Makes a Great Protagonist to the list of topics to discuss?

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 6:42 pm Jenny said...

Sounds good.

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 9:37 am Gina Black said...

I loved when you wrote about motifs and metaphoric motifs vis-a-vis Sherlock (finally understood it then…at least I think so), and I’d like to know as a writer how one would use it effectively, so it wasn’t trite or wasted, but actually kicks the story up a notch or two. This could include finding the right motif for the work. For instance, does one channel it? Or is there some intellectual exercise that will reveal it? Does one need a good grasp of symbolism or does one invent one’s own? (Lots of questions here…)

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 10:01 am Lola said...

I’m still don’t see how motifs and metaphors helps the story. How do they relate to the plot or characters?

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 10:15 am Barbara said...

Frankly, as a semi-lurker, I’ll read any thing you and the Arghers write. I love this group of people. All of you show an intelligence and wit seldom found on the internet. I’m really enjoying seeing these intelligent people try to shape their thoughts into a question. I teach literature, not write it, and I find it fascinating to read what you guys, many of you writers, have to say.
My question is, do ALL writers actually think about this stuff [ motifs, metaphors, scenes, beats, POV, theme] while they write? Do you? Or is this the kind of thing that would be considered while revising? Or what?

Thumb up 4

On January 25, 2014 at 3:13 pm robena grant said...

I’m a pantser who uses a rough outline, usually one that’s just in my head.
My question: If in the middle of writing a contemporary romance a secondary character takes on an entirely different demeanor than you intended, and he becomes larger than life, the tone darkens and switches to what could be romantic suspense, do you toss that character out of your relationship/love story or do you go with it and expand his character and go back and foreshadow?

Thumb up 2

On January 25, 2014 at 11:38 pm Thea said...

Ooh, ooh, write about obsessions. All blogs I read revolve around obsessions. Although I suspect most questions from Arghers will tie into your obsessions.
Three sentences, three uses of “obsessions.” Uh, gotta think this one through. Maybe why I read here? Obsessions.

Thumb up 0

On January 25, 2014 at 11:47 pm Jenny said...

Not quite sure what the question is. Obsessive characters? Obsession as a plot device?

Thumb up 0

On January 26, 2014 at 4:36 am Micki said...

Gotta get this in before I read the comments: You are a great teacher.

You may be a soft and easy grader, but as an adult student, it took so much pressure off of me. When I was a kid, I got great grades, but I definitely performed and molded my answers so that my teachers would like my work and give me good grades. I would compromise, I would second-guess and I would not take risks. I still had a lot of brown-nose attitude when I took your class (because that’s me — I want people to like me), but I really felt like I could take this class as an adult, and explore the areas you wanted to explore, and explore the areas I wanted to explore. It was a magical, wonderful year, and I learned so much from you, and from my classmates, and also from myself.

I think Questionable Fridays sounds like a great idea, and given the number of comments I had to scroll past to get here — it looks like a lot of other people do, too. (-: And I bet there are already a ton of questions for your question jar.

Here’s one from me: how to you move from writing relatively polished scenes to brand new scenes? I’m finding my clumsiness sort of disconcerting, even though I intellectually realize that I had the same kind of problems when I was writing the earlier drafts of the polished scene. (Well, actually, the first couple of times I wrote that scene, I was blissfully unaware of many of my problems, LOL. But by the third draft, I could spot some of my problems on my own, and it took at least eight rewrites to get to the happy place where I left Scene One.)

Thumb up 2

On January 26, 2014 at 6:48 am Jilly Wood said...

I love the idea of Questionable Fridays. I’ll happily discuss anything, but I’d love to know how you evaluate your story once you reach the end of your first draft – how do you decide what to keep and what to change?

Thumb up 0

On January 26, 2014 at 9:50 am JenniferNennifer said...

I’m with Barbara “Frankly, as a semi-lurker, I’ll read any thing you and the Arghers write”

I don’t write so I often don’t feel impelled to comment, but I enjoy reading it, just as I would enjoy reading a great spy novel – with no desire to become a spy.

Also, in case you didn’t know, one can be worse than a lurker, one can be a “forwarded-ee” i.e. people who only read the parts I (and I am betting other people) send them, but STILL greatly enjoy the insights and brilliance so often displayed here.

Thumb up 1

On January 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm Jenny said...

No, no, lurkers are good, I just always feels sorry for them, stuck in the underbrush.
But now that I think of it, I lurk on all the blogs I read, so never mind. It’s cosy here in the underbrush.

Thumb up 0

On January 26, 2014 at 10:28 am KM Fawcett said...

I’d love some insight on writing a series of books. Especially POVs in them. I’m on Book 3 now of my sci-fi/ fantasy romance and this is the 3rd couple I’m writing. However, couples form the first 2 books are intertwined in the story as some are related to each other. I want to give them some POV scenes too but not sure if that takes away from the main romance. I’m not sure how to handle writing it. Would that other couple have to be a sub plot that runs through the story? Do I only keep it in this hero/heroine’s POV? I guess the question is how best to handle multiple POVs in a series. Also perhaps how much back story is appropriate to include so that new readers can follow along and old readers don’t get bored. Thanks!

Thumb up 0

On January 26, 2014 at 5:24 pm Abigail S. said...

I am mostly a lurker who jumps out from the underbrush every now and then to comment when inspired….I just love the way the discussions go and to really get other people perspective in a critical and intelligent manner rather than pure trolling negative Nancy’s. And a questionable Friday sounds great for this group, I am not a writer ( love to read) but I am a painter and find a lot of similarities when trying to work through a series or fighting painters block or when a painting suddenly decides it will not go the direction you planned for it no matter how many storyboards, collages and actual bullet points where it was supposed to go. I come here and always find humor honesty and interesting people that keep inspiring me. Thank you and keep the discussions up they are my weekends guilty pleasure…you guys and Three Twins Ice Cream.

Thumb up 2

On February 5, 2014 at 4:35 pm Peggy said...

Hi Jenny! I’m popping out of lurkerland to ask a question–not sure if this is the best place to do it, or somewhere else, so I apologize if this is the wrong spot. I have really enjoyed your solo work (especially Bet Me, WTT, and Faking It) as well as your work with Bob Mayer (AGNES!). How different is your writing process when you work with another author (or authors, as in your more recent collaborations)? Does anything fundamental change about how you plan (or don’t plan) the storyline, conflict, beats, etc.?

Love, love, love your thoughts on writing and have just signed up for emails so that I never miss a post. Thank you!

Thumb up 0

On February 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm Jenny said...

I’ll do it as a Questionable. Thanks for signing up!

Thumb up 0