CRAFT IN THE REAL WORLD: RETHINKING FICTION WRITING AND WORKSHOPPING is written by an experienced creative-writing workshop leader. Mr. Salesses brings to the attention of the world but especially minority students the establishment playbook for creating publishable fiction and discusses a bevy of means to undermine it.
Part One is probably invaluable to students, teachers, and writers pressing for the articulation and acceptance of their hitherto silenced voices. But it also holds lessons for those of us with soft grips on claims of silencing and, in the best of worlds, even for middle-class white cis males–the villains of the story–likely to be aficionados of the “Iowa Writers’ Workshop” rules of practice.
Mr. Salesses argues that the “pure craft” touted by the dominant culture is a lie and that fiction is always ideological even if when denies that label. Western novels are written for a particular audience, largely white middle-class people. He asserts that the old novelistic chestnuts of individualism and psychological realism have worn thin and that external causation or new cultural traditions offer vibrant and non-teleological avenues for the fiction of minority writers.
He takes issue with the commonplace notions of the hero story, pathetic fallacy, the western dependence on conflict, and conventional ideas of audience, theme, and purpose.
And offers redefinitions of craft terms:
Tone: is a lens through which to understand the attitudes of characters to each other and the world; Plot: is not necessarily a causal string of events but, within systems of power, the plot may be an acceptance or rejection of consequences—a negotiation with power dependent on a protagonist’s personal situation. Conflict: is conventionally, something standing in the way of desire whether internal or external, but the author suggests conflict may arise from matters of free will or fate with meaningful consequences Characterization: is a character’s attitude, speech, actions vs decisions and avoidance of decisions, appearance, and thoughts. Relatability: relatable to whom? Believability: is usually a matter of planting seeds in a story but possibly accomplished by making one person in the story question it. Who believes something happened or not is usually a matter of privilege (that is, ideology) Setting: is an awareness of the world, always tied to character, plot, theme, and arcs. Questions include: What is a protagonist aware of; what forces shape her awareness; what is the narrator aware of; what forces shape that awareness; what awareness shapes the idea of who the implied author is; what awareness shapes the idea of who the implied reader is; what and who is worth noticing, and what world do character, author, and audience inhabit? Pacing: is here a critique of former rules as to short story or chapter length. Structure: is posited as based on words that get their meaning from a system of other words, while meaning is affected by the placement of words whose order is often cultural. Craft and diversity: there should be no tokenism but craft should incorporate other cultural expectations to reach an implied reader.
Mr. Sallesses advises Asian-American writers, in particular, on their fusion strategy.
The Second Part of the books lists potential workshop set-ups that are hospitable to every voice through exchanges of questions and answers, and closes with a list of writing exercises.