i heard a creative writing workshop horror story the other day. The student had turned in a narrative story in which the protagonist visits a hospital. She goes past the waiting room and turns into a hallway until finding the person she’s visiting. The class savaged it. Where is the hospital? what did the waiting room look like? how many people were in it? what did they look like? And, sure, details are nice. But the critiques missed what this minimalist story was doing. Is it the piece really better off with “Kelly heaved the revolving door of Bethlehem Royal, trudging through the waiting room with guady lavender sconces and past a man with dark medium-length hair, clearly trying to conceal his agitation from a female vibrator lodged deep in his rectum,” or is this minimalist piece doing something different that the class was not willing to engage with? I mean, maybe she just wanted Kelly (dont know the character’s real name) to get to that one hospital room; is that so wrong?
the number one criticism my work gets in the mfa program is: “Think about your reader more.” But like, i dont know the reader. this is main philosophical disagreement i have with the workshop ethos. We can’t have this kind of stripped down minimalism — details details! show dont tell! — but not too many details, then it’s verbose and masturbatory, like David Foster Wallace. Consider the reader’s patience, accommodate the reader, behave yourself in front of the reader. Reader as police.
im told Coetzee’s THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS got awful reviews. they quipped that he’d gotten “tired” and complacent after winning the Nobel, “too lazy” to write a novel the right way. True, this is some carved down prose, even for him. It’s consumed with dialog, the sentences are simple. But of course if things arent conventional, the reviewers have licence to saunter past everything the novel’s actually doing.