by: Austin Chien
I’d always wanted to be a writer, be it one of short stories, articles, or even screenplays. I enjoy the use of language to convey specific ideas and feelings, but, being a biology major, I’ve spent most of my academic time here at Cornell focused on various science classes. Hoping to explore my creative side, I decided to enroll in a class this year that offered little-to-no contribution to my requirements: Introduction to Creative Writing.
Introduction to Creative Writing is exactly what it sounds like. Stories are examined and broken down into their components of rhythm, dialogue, and characterization just as specimens under a microscope. Alice Munro’s use of filtered narration in her short story “Friend of my Youth,” Annie Proulx’s scenery detail in “Brokeback Mountain,” and Denis Johnson’s surreal imagery in “Emergency,” were all topics that we discussed and analyzed at some point in the first month of class. On an average day the class, all 18 of us ease into a room in Goldwin Smith Hall, each of us taking a seat around a large wooden table that takes up most of the space. Assigned stories and poems are discussed through readings of passages and quotes exemplifying particular qualities in writing, such as sensory detail (“rain chattering on the tin roof as the last yellow orange purple rays of sun retreated from the windows”) and tone (“she shivered as the room darkened, each wall descending into black; she couldn’t be sure of where it, that thing had gone, but it was almost certainly in that enclosed space, with her”).
In addition to reading the stories and poems of accomplished authors, we devote much time to our own craftsmanship. The stories I’ve seen produced by my peers have been filled with moments that have shocked, enamored, and thrilled me. We often spend whole classes looking at each others’ work, offering both praise and criticism, all so that each of us can make the best story possible bit by bit.
Writing is not easy. Plots must have clear conflicts that develop naturally. Characters need to be consistent but also have to change. Details are and should be everywhere. One can spend hours churning out a rough 5 pages, brief periods of clarity and creativity punctuated by eons of doggedly editing cliches and banalities. But there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing others enjoy a story and knowing that it’s yours. Introduction to Creative Writing has been one of my favorite classes here at Cornell, and I look forward to taking the Intermediate course and learning more next fall.