Skip to content

It was a dark and stormy neocortex…

Tonight the Tallahassee Writers Association featured a talk about description by Janet Burroway, FSU writing prof and author of the classic textbook, Writing Fiction. I was cranky and had a pounding headache when I arrived, but Burroway engaged so wonderfully with her audience that I forgot all about the challenges of the day as she explained how using good descriptive language engages the reader’s neocortex, zapping the ol’ limbic system with words that evoke the chemical reaction between physical reaction and emotion.

It’s one of those theories I don’t ever want to learn has any flaws to it. Even if we find out some day that the neocortex simply exists to allow us to make right turns on red without killing ourselves, I’m going to keep believing in Burroway’s argument, if for no other reason than it sounds a lot cooler than spouting “show, don’t tell.” (That gets flogged to death, does it not. The great part about creative nonfiction is that there are no penalty points for ‘telling,’ assuming it’s done the right way and in the right place. If an essayist didn’t get up on her stump and start thinking on the page now and then, people would think she was simple.)

I have decided to give the Tallahassee Writers’ Association another try (even though we spent fifteen minutes on a writing exercise about whales in which we were really discussing orcas — fortunately, I contained myself from pointing that out, and I guess “Shamu, the easily-socialized dolphin” does sound a bit lame). TWA feels peppier than it did last fall, the topics are interesting, more young people show up… I still have an issue with a workshop session where we don’t share our work in advance (at that point, I just went home, as do most members), and I note that again, the annual 7 Hills Writing Contest puts a 1,000-word limit on essay submissions, but at least TWA pulls together struggling writers. Not that it could ever compare with the elite SWAT team, The Greater Tallahassee Literary Writers’ Guild and Reader’s Advisory Service, but I do think I shall show up to TWA next month, too.

We had a discussion about point of view, which in retrospect was the first time Ive been to a TWA meeting where we’ve really dug into Craft — I mean got its sticky stuff all over our hands. At one point someone asked Burroway what was the meanest trick an author could play on the reader, and she fired back, ending a book “And then I woke up.” Amen to that. Amen also to having only one question about playwriting all evening. Amen to returning to a discussion about point of view.

Several titles Burroway or her introducer mentioned that will have to go on my “git list”: two of her own books (Raw Silk, Embalming Mom); Douglas Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop; David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

I’m now ready to collapse with Harry Potter, using the copy loaned to me by Lisa, my writing buddy; I want to read it straight through, but I don’t want it to end. That, to me, is great fiction.

Posted on this day, other years: