First Month of Creative Writing Research

I spent the first two weeks of my summer in Ireland with my aunt, traveling, writing, and brainstorming ideas for the first three short stories I would write as the accumulation of my creative writing research. My main goal this summer was to practice writing concise fiction. I have always been more inclined towards lengthy non-fiction, so I thought this goal would stretch me as writer. In particular, I wanted a better idea of how to create a complex character in a short amount of time. 

I started this project thinking that I would be writing primarily about my experiences in Ireland with my aunt, but after a month of writing and brainstorming I’ve found this hasn’t been the case. Instead, I’ve been writing more broadly about the topics that affected my interpersonal relationships while on the trip, namely alcohol, struggles with intergenerational communication, and insecurities, particularly insecurities common in women. I found these topics not only affected my trip, they also fit under the larger categories I wanted to address going into this project: culture, family, and struggle.

Culture, and the way if affects the connections we make with people, particularly our family, was the first thing I noticed while taking notes on the trip.

Growing up, my aunt was one of my favorite people. I admired the joy with which she seemed to approach life, her openness, her sense of adventure. She never spoke down to me. She laughed easily. I thought she was one of the prettiest adults I knew, and looking back I see this had very little to do with her physical appearance. 

As I prepared for this trip with her to Ireland, however, I was a little nervous. We had not spent time together the way we used to in years. I knew this woman well as a young niece know a fun-loving aunt, but I did not know her well as one adult knows another, as equals. It is the development of this new kind of relationship that inspires most of my fictional stories, in some way or another. 

My aunt is from rural southwest Virginia, while I grew up in a college town in the same area. She and my father grew up with less money and a less stable home life than my own. I found that as adults, this cultural difference between us meant much more than it did when I was a child. During the trip it sometimes seemed she had more in common with the working class people of Ireland than she did with me. Our shared country and family meant less at times than experiences and a lifestyle she had in common with people she had just met.

The cultural differences between us went beyond the areas we grew up. She had a harder childhood than I did. She experienced more uncertainty, unhappiness, and even cruelty than I ever did, and both my parents have this in common with her. This creates an interesting family dynamic– one in which the adults want the best for the next generation, but are at the same time occasionally resentful that the children (my brother and myself,) do not fully appreciate their advantages. Understanding the value of money and occasionally hearing “We can’t afford that right now,” is entirely different from associating money with fear.

Money isn’t everything, but it is so much. Money is dinner and it is status. It is access- to education, to travel, to healthcare. Money is power, and whoever wields it in a household controls the house. Money is gas money to get to work– and let’s be clear, the adults in my family worked as teenagers. Money, in the end, is freedom from fear. The difference between the way I see money and they way my parents and aunt see it is urgency. Money has never held the same urgency for me. This feeling that money will always be there is born out of always having enough, and is both a gift from my parents and a wall that stands between us.

This struggle to reconcile the experience of one generation with the next is the subject of one of the short stories I am still in the process of drafting.

The other story I’ve been working on has to do more with growing up female, and how fear and insecurity breeds selfishness at different stages in our lives. This subject was inspired partly by the trip, because I saw this phenomenon both in my aunt and in myself. However, I do not think we are unique in this behavior, and I pulled from a lot of experiences throughout my life to write the piece. The story is told from the perspective of two characters, a twelve-year-old girl and her camp counselor. They are forced to look beyond themselves when things go wrong on a caving trip and they have to help each other escape. To a lesser degree, I also try to touch on generational difference in this piece. However, I focus less on differences in experience growing up and more on how we become blind to the problems of a younger age after we grow beyond them. The issues of social exile and struggling to mature as a middle schooler seem comical to us looking back, but in the moment they were real and they hurt. I try to place the characters in difficult situations so that they are forced to understand each other.

As I continue working, my goals are to write stories that inspire empathy in the reader, and to keep my pieces short in order to challenge myself as a writer.

Comments

  1. acgerhard says:

    I think you’re very right with generational differences- I see it quite a bit in my parents, who take some of the opposite direction. They went to college on scholarship terms, and have pushed my brother and I to explore and have the college experiences that they didn’t. It’s a gentle sort of living vicariously, I think.

    I’m curious as to how you’ll incorporate some of those differences. One of the hardest things in writing for me is not only knowing another’s viewpoint, but writing it compassionately. No one ever believes they’re wrong or that the things they brought with them from childhood are wrong. In writing characters who are like us dealing with characters we encounter, it’s easy to project. What I view as my parent’s projection they view as pride in what they can provide. My grandmother’s fear is, by her view, common sense.

    Writing these shifts in perspective while remaining humble in my own has always been a struggle- I find what I attempt as empathy can rob some characters of perhaps a dignity they might deserve. Ii’d be interested in seeing if you run into the same thing, or how you handle these questions as a writer

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