Originally posted on May 29, 2013
It’s a pleasure to welcome Cheri Pray Earl to WIFYR again. She has been involved with the conference for many years. Those attending her morning workshop will rescue stalled-out novel manuscripts and paddle through the murky middles. It’s sure to be a great experience. Now on to the interview.
Q: What is your favorite paragraph that you have ever written or read that someone else wrote and why?
A: “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.”—Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird
I can’t say I have a favorite line/paragraph really, but this comes close. It’s full of voice, rhythm, emotion, nostalgia, meaning. It brings up the emotion of the whole book for me.
Q: If you weren’t a writer, what would you do?
A: Teach writing, which is what I do that keeps me from writing. I love irony . . .
Q: How often do you write a piece before it’s where you think it should be so you can show it to someone else?
A: Do you mean how many times do I revise a piece before it’s good enough to show someone? I hope that’s what you mean because that’s the question I’m answering. I revise my first few (two to three) chapters maybe a dozen times before I show them to anyone. I might show bits and pieces earlier than that, but not the whole. The narrative voice of a novel is hard for me to nail down, so I keep rewriting the beginning until I get that part right. Then I can move on with the story.
Q: What is your best writing exercise to help someone get stronger as a writer?
A: My favorite exercise is Routine, Disruption, and Drama from The Portable MFA. It goes like this:
Frank O’Connor says (in his book, The Lonely Voice) that a story requires three elements: exposition, development, and drama. You know that your beginning plot portion is strong if you can summarize your story in three lines, with each line relating to one of these elements. For example:
- Exposition: John Fortescue was a solicitor in the little town of X. (Routine)
- Development: One day, Mrs. Fortescue told him she was leaving him for another man. (Disruption of routine)
- Drama: “You’ll do nothing of the kind,” he said. (What the protagonist will struggle for, in this case, his marriage.)
Another favorite is a writing exercise that sort of mimics what Hemingway (and Steinbeck, too) does with setting up a scene. This one works for me and for my students because we all need to work on creating richer settings. Here it is:
Write six descriptive sentences without a character (second three sentences elaborate on the first three). Then have the character(s) enter the setting you have created; write at least 4 lines of dialogue. No more than 500 words total.
Learn more about Cheri, view her WIFYR bio and class information.