By Kristen Roach, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
Did the double negative in the photograph get some of you grammar police to tune in? Did you raise an eyebrow and say, “Never not? Just cut out both words and write Working Class Hero.” Well, grab a cup of joe, sit back, and let’s workshop that little graphic. Because, as I said in my last post, we must play with words when there’s nothing at stake, so that we gain the confidence to use all of our skills and put something at stake. It’s the same with workshop. If you practice looking with a critical eye and crack out criticisms of misleading clickbait headlines or commend a well-researched article, you’re on your way. On your way to being able to read the work of your classmates and quickly recognize what works, what doesn’t, and why. And once you see it in your peers’ work, you’ll start to see it in your own. Trust me on this one: the more effort you put into your critiques, the better your own writing will become. You’ll catch yourself as you enter the gates of common mistakes and turn around to find a better way.
So let’s continue that raised-eyebrow discourse. “Never Not Working Class Hero.” It’s a photo I found online that has reuse rights. I have no context for it, as sometimes you will have no context for the chapter of a novel someone turns in, or a poem that’s part of a sonnet sequence, or an essay intended to be linked to others. Like the authors in your workshop, this writer cannot speak to explain h/erself. It’s just a little piece of creation, floating in space. We can speculate and ponder, but not know, where it fits into the larger world. So we have to take it as it is.
Workshopper 1: It seems unnecessarily wordy, and everyone knows double negatives are wrong. Writing should be clear and concise, not confound the reader with complications. “Working Class Hero” is much more straightforward; it allows the reader to grasp the concept quickly and move on to the rest of the story.
Workshopper 2: This is a quirky assemblage of words. It gets your attention more than a solo stock phrase like “Working Class Hero” would. It uses the common knowledge of the phrase but puts an edge on it. And besides, “Never Not” creates its own qualifications for the job. Everyone knows Superman is a hero. But he spends a lot of time as Clark Kent. So this phrase imagines a hero of the working class who spends all his time flying, fighting, and cape-clad. Which is a different, more committed thing than suiting up in a crisis. Never Not Working Class Hero.
Workshopper 3: Why use the phrase “Working Class Hero” at all? If you want to create a unique character, you’ve got to think beyond well-known phrases. Invent your own title like The Chump Change Challenger or Saint Steel-Toe. Yeah, Saint Steel-Toe. Give us something we’ve never heard before if you want to keep us invested.
Use all, use part, use nothing. These are all fair and useful critiques. And there are more options, even for these five little words. Your job in a workshop is to consider the writer’s options again and again, and measure whether you think they chose the best ones possible. To put in the effort towards all of the words and stories, not just your own. So that when you put your phrases and images at stake, you can expect that everyone else will be weighing them for precision and accuracy, and telling you when they are satisfied and when they are short-changed.
It’s what makes for a working class, hero.
Published on August 26, 2015