Thursday, November 3, 2011
Molly Fox's Birthday, by Deirdre Madden
(This post may be most relevant for the readers of this blog who are in or ever think they might be in a writing workshop of any kind.)
One of my two regular writing workshops this fall is with Deirdre Madden, the author of Molly Fox's Birthday and a number of other books. I've never been in a workshop at this level before this semester, so in large part I had no idea what to expect. Ultimately, while I can enjoy many aspects of the class, I notice that my classmates' most common complaint is one I can sympathize with. The teacher, while insightful in her feedback, tends to want more of the same exact thing out of each writer's work.
In short, she always wants to see a better evocation of place; in other words, she wants to see every detail of people, of rooms, of objects, of landscape, of anything that is present in a scene.
Bullheaded writers that we are, we declare that our writing doesn't need such level of detail, that our writing emphasizes other aspects than the visual. I'm as bad as the next student.
Then I read Molly Fox's Birthday. It's a lovely book, and quite enjoyable for someone just getting to know Dublin like I am. What I took away from it, though, is that Deirdre writes through the visual details. That is, she doesn't simply evoke place--she puts the place to work, and through her descriptions, the reader learns an incredible amount about the characters, their motivations, their desires, their makeup.
The solution clicked. What each of us in class was failing to do was not necessarily including enough details about place. What we were failing to do was find our own ways to evoke the essence of the characters populating our work. Deirdre distills her characters though visible physical details; no matter how we were doing it, if we were doing it successfully, she would probably never take issue with the visual in our work.
So to all workshoppers present and future: I really do recommend reading the work of your teachers. You'll likely gain an interpretive insight into their feedback that will help you decode their comments on your work and aid you in revising and improving your writing.