I don’t normally review works of fiction on this blog — I tend to stick to business books. But, occasionally, a work of fiction makes some good points about writing. Susan Breen’s new book, The Fiction Class, falls into that category.
The premise is simple: author Arabella Hicks is teaching a fiction class. Our first introduction to her is her first few moments with her class, in which Arabella describes a phenomenon I encounter over and over when talking to writers — both aspiring and professional.
“Ever since the third grade,” she goes on, because for some reason it always is the third grade, “ever since the teacher chose your story to read aloud on Parents’ Day. She was so excited by your facility with words. Facility! She even used that word in the letter she sent home to your parents inviting them to be guests of honor at the reading…”
It truly always is the third grade — I wrote my first short story in the third grade — even for those people who only want to have written, rather than write. Everyone who swears that they have a novel in them somewhere started getting the idea in the third grade.
Of course, Arabella does not stay focused on the third grade for the rest of her fiction class, but she does remain focused on the past. After each class, she visits her mother’s nursing home. Her mother is equally past-oriented, and between the two of them, we quickly build a detailed picture of the family history: Arabella’s extremely sick father, Mrs. Hick’s bitterness at the world and Arabella’s own inability to connect.
Arabella even brings her class along for little jaunts down Memory Lane, assigning prompts that are meant to point them towards their own lives for inspiration. But relying on one’s own experience is not a negative for a writer — even thinly veiled stories of our own lives can be some of the most moving fiction we can write. Even non-fiction writers are not exempt; we all write about those things that interest and fascinate us, those things that make up our lives.
As the class progresses through prompts, Arabella’s mother becomes a de facto member of the class, discussing prompts with her daughter after the classes. She even writes her own short story — her first — that allows Arabella to eventually consider the future rather than the past, and even inspire progress on her own work.
I find that when I hear or read interesting views about writing, I’m generally inspired to do a little more fiction writing myself. The Fiction Class falls into that category — I don’t necessarily agree with Arabella’s teaching methods, but I’m intrigued with the sheer personality that is poured into the stories she discusses. I found myself trying to think of my own answers to the prompts she poses and enjoyed the fact that the book actually made me think.
For more information about The Fiction Class (buying the book, etc.), head on over to Blog Stop Book Tours.