Greg Garrett is the author of four novels, including Cycling published in June of this year. He is also the author of two books of memoir, and over a dozen books on narrative, film, culture, religion, and politics. He is 2013 Centennial Professor at Baylor University, where he teaches classes in creative writing, literature, and film.
Greg is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Playing with Time: Planning Your Story from Past to Future” at St. Edward’s University on Saturday, September 26. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Scribe: Do you think there is any particular value of writing exercises when it comes to imagining the pasts and futures of characters?
Greg Garrett: I always encourage my students to know much more about their characters than they end up sharing in the work they’re doing. Sometimes I ask them to write character histories for major characters. For people working on longer narratives, it’s usually helpful for them to plot out their throughlines—maybe on past the end of their book or screenplay.
Scribe: The class description also mentions “successful exposition.” Can you briefly share one tip authors can use for writing exposition well?
GG: Exposition always consists of information, mostly from before the beginning of the story. The challenge is always how much of it to include—and when to include it. We’ll talk in class about the difference between “exposition dumps” –big blocks of information that the writer is awkwardly trying to shoehorn into the story—and drips and drops of exposition. Some writing examples will help us learn how successful exposition looks.
Scribe: Have you ever found that you or your students become so immersed in the past and future of a character that you find you delve into that more than initially planned?
GG: On one of my very early novels—I wrote it for my Master’s thesis, and it’s never been published, thank God—I got so interested in my main character’s back story that I kept writing histories, first of the character’s parents, then of his grandparents. But when I started trying to write the World War One experiences of the character’s grandfather into my Vietnam War-era novel, I knew I had gone overboard.
Scribe: Could you briefly describe what the “practical value” of thinking about time refers to in the class description? Do you think people could think more about the past and the future in their own lives?
GG: In terms of this class, I’m encouraging participants to wrestle with the artistic challenges of time in storytelling, but I certainly think that spiritually and emotionally the past and future offer a rich topic. We tend to relive the past and anticipate the future instead of ground ourselves in the present, which Buddhist and Christian mystics both have noted, and so our characters tend to do that as well. Perhaps the great example is Fitzgerald’s Gatsby: “Can’t repeat the past? . . . Why of course you can!” But what makes great storytelling is immersing a reader or viewer in a realized moment, whether that moment took place in the past, is happening “now,” or will not arrive until the character’s future!
— Thanks, Greg!
Click here to read more about Greg’s class and register.
Click here for a full schedule of fall classes.