Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Diffusionist Writing: An Ungendered Genre

by Kaye Linden and Mary Bast

Bacopa Literary Review's 2018 editors have coined the term Diffusionism for writing that merges, blends, or removes the definitions from traditional genres. Next year we'll open this category and invite writers to mix up traditional genres, to write skewed or in shapes, with creativity, imagination, and clarity--meaningful writing with a powerful voice, offering readers a consistent evocation of justified emotion or imagery.

Examples of Diffusionist writing might include a creative nonfiction piece written in one long sentence, creative nonfiction or fiction written in lists, prose narratives with intermittent broken lines, or shaped prose that offers a concrete image or images on the page that support the writing's themes. Other examples might include a poem written backwards, or from right to left, bottom to top, or in a series of boxes.

As always, we'll seek great writing and originality, our main criterion for success the voice of the piece and its impact on readers.

Where did the term Diffusionism come from?

While creating a lecture on diffusion, Kaye--a Registered Nurse--considered the comparisons between physiological diffusion and writing across genres. In the simplest of chemical terms, "diffusion" is the movement of molecules from a higher to a lower concentration, a scattering of particles across borders. While researching further, Kaye came across the term applied to the diffusion of cultural ideas across geographic borders.

Mary added that the word's original meaning was from the Latin diffundere (pouring out), and in general refers to the spreading of something more widely. Of two particularly relevant definitions, one refers to "the action of spreading light evenly from its source to reduce glare and harsh shadows," the other to "intermingling of substances by the natural movement of their particles."

We apply this concept to the intermingling of genres and genders, driven not by low or high concentrations, but by natural movement from creative energies:
Reducing the "shadows," expanding the light.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How to Motivate Better Writing

Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

How many times have you walked away from a writer's critique group feeling dismayed and demotivated? The kindest among us will be less heavy-handed with a new writer, but even the best writers are not so confident they can handle hearing their "baby" is ugly. No matter how positive our intentions, if people leave a critique feeling deflated, it's not working. And this happens far too often.

Remember your first spelling test? Did the teacher circle all the correct answers in red? No. We've been taught from an early age to focus on what's wrong. The best teachers and parents try to correct behavior in a loving way because they know it's hurtful to a child to be constantly criticized. But the operant word is still correct. When dealing with adults, our drive to address problems, set targets, and work to accomplish them has created a culture of problem-centered improvement, where feedback is focused on what's not working well.

By pointing out what needs to be corrected in others' work, we may unintentionally create the "Golem Effect," borrowed from Jewish folklore about a creature meant to protect Prague that instead destroyed the city. When a group engages the Golem Effect, efforts to improve writing will demolish motivation.

We can invite the "Pygmalion Effect" instead, where positive expectations influence performance positively. This approach was named after an ancient sculptor who fell in love with a female figure he'd created from ivory. When he kissed the statue, she came to life. Our goal in critique groups is to help each other become better writers, and our positive approach to critique is the "kiss" that brings each other's work to life.

This applies to all critiques, anywhere, all the time.

Critique Guidelines

Read the work carefully before writing comments.
  • get to know the author's voice and style
  • develop a general feel before noting specifics
  • approach the work on its own terms, not the way you would write it
Write comments in third person; address the work, not the author.

Call attention to punctuation/spelling only if certain errors predominate. Instead of offering a re-write or copy-edit, trust the author to learn from the comments and decide what to change, or not change.

Let the author know what's strong in the work. Though hearing what you "love" or think is "terrific" may feel good, those general comments don't improve someone's writing. Point out specific strengths, with examples, in several of these areas:
  • theme, form, structure
  • plot, setting, scene, suspense, conflict
  • point of view, character depth
  • diction, dialogue, exposition, narration, tense consistency
  • alliteration, assonance, consonance, cohesion
  • figures of speech, word choices, metaphors, similes, imagery
  • style, voice, rhyme, rhythm, pacing
  • line breaks, stanzas
Then offer A FEW specific and nonjudgmental suggestions to improve the work. Saying what's "wrong" or what needs "correcting" will tend to raise defenses. Instead, focus the author's attention on how the work could be better written. Think in terms of possibilities--ask yourself  "What would be the solution to this perceived problem?" For example:
  • Instead of "You've used this phrase too often," try "I see this phrase several times in this piece; it could have more impact if used only on page 4."
  • Instead of "This is too general," try "More concrete details here would increase the work's somber mood."
  • Instead of "This is a cliche," try "A fresher word would grab attention here, such as (example from author's work).
  • Instead of "This paragraph is confusing," try "This paragraph could show more clearly who is speaking."