Summary Part 1: Erin
The story starts off by telling us how to live our life. It says to try at something and fail so you can write haikus about loss. The story goes on to say your mother will pay you no mind and tell you to do the dishes. When you do you’ll break a glass. In school, you write villanelles and sonnets about your teacher. You try writing a fiction story and turn it into your teacher, who says there’s no plot. It tells you to take babysitting jobs and tell your stories to the kids. You decide to take a child psychology major and sign up for a bird class. You find out the bird class is creative writing and you decide to stay there because sometimes mistakes happen for a reason.
Summary Part 2: Alessa
Francie decides she likes college life, meeting all kinds of people with different levels of intelligence and different points of view.
The assignment that week in creative writing is to narrate a violent happening. The teacher tells her she has no sense of plot when he hands back her writing piece. She writes another story with six paragraphs and reads it out loud in class, someone later coming up to her to ask if she’s crazy.
Francie eventually decides that she should probably stick to comedies and starts dating someone funny. She writes down all his jokes without his knowledge and gives her socially handicapped characters the name of his old girlfriend. Francie’s psychology advisor tells her to focus more on her major. Francie says she understands.
For the next two years, she continues going to creative writing seminars and watches as her class looks through her writing for some plot. Francie gets depressed and finally switches majors when she realizes how happy she is while writing.
Her writing professor asks for altered realistic stories created through the power of imagination. When Francie tells her roommate about her idea, the roommate suggests going out for a big beer. The creative writing seminar doesn’t like her idea-turned-story.
The next semester, the writing professor asks for stories about personal experience, but only three things have happened to her in the past three years; losing her virginity, her parents getting divorced, and her brother returning home from the war with only half a thigh. She writes the first two stories with ease, but no words can be found for the last.
Summary part 3: Meghana
Francie is at an undergraduate cocktail party where her roommate says that all she writes about is her boyfriend, but Francie insists she likes to count the syllables. She is having trouble thinking of things to write about, and when her mom visits her, giving her a business book and a baby naming book, her mom doubts her writing will succeed. Her writing continues to disappoint those around her, and she attempts law school but backs out. Instead, she works small jobs, takes writing classes, and breaks up with her boyfriend. The story ends with Francie, still failing at her writing, with an unencouraging date.
The chronic tension is that Francie didn’t get any support for her writing from her family. The acute tension is that in her creative writing college course, she got a lot of harsh criticism for her stories.
Analysis Part 1: Erin
The first thing that I tracked in this story was the Point of View. The story is in second-person POV, evident from the way the author uses ‘you, you’re, and your’ as a way of talking to the audience. In this perspective, the story of ‘you’ is narrated. This way of writing is often used in instructions or directions, and in this case, it may be correct with the title of the story being ‘How to Become a Writer.’ The main character’s name is also a gender-neutral name, Francie can be the shortened form of Francis (male) or Frances (female). This can lead to the assumption that this is a how-to guide of how to become a writer told as if you’re the main character.
In your high school English class look only at Mr. Killian’s face.
This is the first time that ‘you’ is used in the story. It’s assuming every aspect of your life, to the name of the teacher and what you’ll be doing in class. It’s telling you, the reader exactly what to think and feel at each stage of life.
When you are home, in the privacy of your own room, faintly scrawl in pencil beneath his black-inked comments: “Plots are for dead people, pore-face.”
This line of the story is reinforcing the idea of what to think and what to do in every situation. It’s almost as if the story is told from personal experience like this is the author retelling her story of how she became a writer. A lot of details like this are very specific and interesting to think of a deeper meaning for.
Try to smile proudly.
Apply to college as a child psychology major.
Here’s the author detailing your life again. Because you are good with kids you try out for a child psychology major. Throughout the story, it always thrusts the reader to think certain ways. Because of the lack of a concrete main character, it relies on the reader’s personal experiences to fill in the blanks. This story has a lot of elements in it. It contains lots of writing styles like haikus, sonnets, villanelles, and fiction. It also is chock-full of personal experiences, the mother, the brother in the war, the boyfriend, how ‘you’ like birds, creative writing, the book of baby names for characters, and so much more. All of the story is chock-full of different narrative experiences. I think this is done because the story is supposed to be in ‘your’ point of view. It has a lot of experiences because it’s trying to connect to the reader. The reader is probably going to have experienced at least something similar to the main character in the story. This means a lot of people can see themselves in the role of the ‘you’ that’s prominent of the story. Especially writers, who can connect to the creative writing part of the story as well as all of the writing types.
You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.
This will also connect to a multitude of people. We all have a way of seeing the world, and this is explored here. We all think of the world in certain terms, a place to live, a place ruined by the older generations, a place ruined by an incompetent president, or just as a rock floating in space. No matter what your view is you’re set on a core belief of how the world works.
Why write? Where does writing come from? These are questions to ask yourself.
Here’s a line that also connects to plenty of people. I’m sure we’ve all fallen into creative slumps where we ask ourselves ‘why write’ or ‘what do I want to achieve with my writing’ or, the dreaded, ‘will I be able to make a living off of my writing?’
Later on in life you learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them.
This is also true for a lot of writers. It’s giving us foreshadowing for careers in writing. The half-believing what’s said of them also cuts deep. It’s like saying to take constructive criticism with a grain of salt, something young writers who, according to the author, won’t’ learn this until later in life because they’re taught that each criticism is something to be taken seriously.
…the same way you said it when someone in the fourth grade accused you of really liking oboe lessons and your parents weren’t really just making you take them.
This is another specific detail that was, in my opinion, put in to connect to certain and specific people. It’s symbolic of not wanting to do something and insisting you hate it just to win an argument, even if you actually like it. I myself can think of plenty of examples of myself doing just that.
Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working on a novel and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. Perhaps you are losing your pals, your acquaintances, your balance.
The repeated use of ‘perhaps’ here is what caught my attention. When a word is repeated, be it fiction or poetry, it’s always to put stress on a specific point or draw attention to something the author thinks is important. Here the thing that’s important is that the story has a very set form of this is exactly what’s going to happen in your life from the names of your teachers to what you write about.’ Here is the story saying that this is perhaps what you’ll do instead of this is what you’ll do. It’s giving the reader creative liberty of the story, taking you out of the cookie-cutter form and giving flexibility.
“You Are Here,” says the red star on the back of the menu.
This is one of the last lines of the story. It’s when you’re an adult, out of school, ready to make a name for yourself now that you’re on your own. The story has layed all the groundwork out for you on ‘how to become a writer.’ And now you are here, your training is complete, and now the story is saying, go off, be your own person, I’ve given you the steps now make use of them.
I’m going to contradict myself here and go with the assumption that Francie is a real person and the story is being told through her eyes.
Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back at you with a face blank as a donut. She’ll say: “How about emptying the dishwasher?”
This is one of the first insights into Francie’s character. She immediately dismissed Francie’s writing and suggests something for Francie to do that will only benefit her. The mom doesn’t show interest in her kid’s hobby and doesn’t compliment her for doing something creative, seemingly seeing it as a waste of time.
Decide faces are important. Write a villanelle about pores. Struggle.
This gives us knowledge of the beginning of Francie’s writing life. Through the story, we always get a front row seat to what’s going on in Francie’s life, including her thoughts. The beginning of the story is literally the beginning of her story, starting with what she first writes about and her struggles.
You start to get up to leave and then don’t. The lines at the registrar this week are huge. Perhaps you should stick with this mistake.
This is what jumpstarts Francie’s life as a writer. It’s where she gets critiques when she explores what she can do with writing, where she finds her calling. It’s the start of her career as a writer, the baby steps to the life she’s about to lead.
You have, however, a ludicrous notion of plot.
This is her first critique in a real creative writing class. The plot in her stories is something that Francie can never seem to overcome. It’s like her terrible crystal, her class always picks apart her stories for not having any plot, and regardless her stories seem to never change.
Start dating someone who is funny, someone who has what in high school you called a “really great sense of humor” and what now your creative writing class calls “self-contempt giving rise to comic form.” Write down all of his jokes, but don’t tell him you are doing this.
This shows Francie’s manipulative relationship with her boyfriend. She dates him, perhaps because she likes him but also because he helps her stories. She’s always ridiculed by her class for having no notion of a plot so she tries something different. The fact that she writes down all his jokes without telling him is a big teller that she’s also using him to get better at writing.
On days when it is your turn, you look at the class hopefully as the scour your mimeographs for a plot. They look back up at you, drag deeply, and then smile in a sweet sort of way.
Despite her attempts, her class still doesn’t like her writing. They smile in pity and still don’t think much of her writing. It’s frustrating for her, even as she keeps writing and writing people always say her images are great but lack plot.
Say to your roommate: “Mopey Dick, get it?” Your roommate looks at you, her face blank as a large Kleenex. She comes up to you, like a buddy, and puts an arm around your burdened shoulders. “Listen, Francie,” she says, slow as speech therapy. “Let’s go out and get a big beer.”
Here is Francie coming up with an idea on her own. She finds it witty and funny and presents it to her roommate because she likes it and seems to be seeking confirmation from her friend. She’s repaid with her roommate giving her a blank stare and, without commenting on her story idea, suggests they go out for beer. This is, without a doubt, probably very frustrating for Francie. Now not only is her plot being criticized but her friend seemingly shoots down her idea without so much as batting an eye.
Insist you are not very interested in any one subject at all, that you are interested in the music of language, that you are interested in — in — syllables, because they are the atoms of poetry, the cells of the mind, the breath of the soul. Begin to feel woozy. Stare into your plastic wine cup.
This is Francie when confronted with the prospect of writing as a major fiercely denying it. When trying to say a different interest it still loops back to writing. This is because of all of the criticism her writing has gotten. Throughout her life- her mother and roommate turning a blind eye to her writing, her teacher and classmates always telling her she has no plot, she is unsure of her path now. The idea of writing as a profession scares her because she’s not sure she can pull it off at this point.
From here on in, many things can happen. But the main one will be this: you decide not to go to law school after all, and, instead, you spend a good, big chunk of your adult life telling people how you decided not to go to law school after all. Somehow you end up writing again. Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working on a novel and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. Perhaps you are losing your pals, your acquaintances, your balance.
This is Francie’s adult life being described in a nutshell. Like a lot of her life, it’s hard and she’s losing a lot to achieve what she wants. She still wants to be a writer, working incredibly hard to make her dream a reality. It shows the life a lot of aspiring writers lead and the harsh reality of making it big as a writer.
Possible plot? A woman gets on a bus.
This is one of the last things in the story. It’s Francie, after working incredibly hard, finally taking all of her criticism to heart. She’s growing and considering how to become better. She’s starting to do plot and writing down plot ideas. It’s a small step, but it will mean a lot in the long run.
- How do you think the story would have differed is Francie’s mother had been supportive of her efforts to become a writer?
- Do you think this story was created with the intent of connecting to writers or telling the story of Francie?
Analysis Part 2: Alessa
The craft elements that I tracked were conflicts and literary devices.
One of the many conflicts is when the main character discovers that the computer has made an error in her schedule when she shows up to the wrong class. Aside from that, the most commonly mentioned one in this story was how the main character had “a ludicrous notion of plot…outrageous and incompetent.” After reading one of her stories out loud in class, someone later approached her afterward to ask her if she was crazy. Later on in the story, Frankie, the main character, gets into an obsessive/depressive state (spent too much time slouched, demoralized, self-mutilating and losing weight) but continues writing nonetheless. Later on, Frankie realizes how deep her love for creative writing runs and decides to switch majors which means she has “fallen in with a bad crowd.”
Now, moving on to literary devices. It is commonly used throughout the story, especially lines that mention blank faces (which is followed further on Meghana’s analysis). Metaphors and similes are the most commonly used such as: “…she says, slow as speech therapy…” and “…writers are merely open, helpless texts…”
- Some of your images are quite nice, but you have no sense of plot.
- You have, however, a ludicrous notion of plot.
- They say your sense of plot is outrageous and incompetent.
- After class someone asks you if you are crazy.
- You spend too much time slouched and demoralized.
- You are said to be self-mutilating and losing weight, but you continue writing.
- You have, as your mother would say, fallen in with a bad crowd.
- It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain.
- These are questions that you keep in your wallet, like calling cards.
- let your imagination sail, to let it grow big-bellied in the wind
- she says, slow as speech therapy
- a permanent smirk nestled into one corner of his mouth.
- Your type-writer hums.
- writers are merely open, helpless texts
- Now you have time like warts in your hands.
- Consider how it looks like the soggy confetti of a map
- What was the main conflict of the story?
- What is the significance of dialogue in the story?
Analysis Part 3: Meghana
I first tracked the repeating phrase of “face as blank as.” In the story, the writer uses the phrase to make the reader pay attention to a significant change to Francie’s mindset and emotional state. The first time it is used, it says, “She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face blank as a donut.” This shows that from the very start, Francie had little support from any parental figure in her life. After this, her mother tells Francie to do the dishes, which she does angrily. This was the first sign in her life that she wanted to write, so it is understandable for her to be upset. This creates an unstable emotional base to build the rest of her writing career off of. She says that this is “a required pain and suffering”, meaning that this lack of encouragement contributed to her writing. She also doesn’t get the support she needs from her teacher who says that she has no sense of plot. Her frustration is again shown by her scratching out the comments and writing “plots are for dead people, pore-face.”
The next time the phrase is used, it says,
‘Excuse me, isn’t this Birdwatching One-oh-one?’ The class stops and turns to look at you. They seem to all have one face – giant and blank as a vandalized clock. Someone with a beard booms out, ‘No. this is Creative Writing.’
This begins her college experience where she continuously feels isolated and left out. She is already not supposed to be in the class, so Francie feels alienated. She sees herself in the middle of everyone else, which is apparent in the lines,
Some are smarter than you. And some, you notice, are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.
People in her class even ask her if she’s crazy. She is different and feels as if there is no place for her.
The phrase is used again in the lines,
Your roommate looks at you, her face blank as a large Kleenex. She comes up to you, like a buddy, and puts an arm around your burdened shoulders. ‘Listen, Francie,’ she says, slow as speech therapy. ‘Let’s go out and get a big beer.’
She is being treated like a child and dehumanized because everyone close to her is acting as if her writing is making her insane. At a cocktail party when asked if her writing is all about her boyfriend, she says
you stiffen and say, ‘I do not,’ the same way you said it when someone in the fourth grade accused you of really liking oboe lessons and your parents really weren’t just making you take them.
In this part, it shows her trying to be more like everyone else. She feels uncomfortable and stiffens up when she is singled out. She also compares herself to a fourth grader, someone younger than her. This line is highlighting the fact that her roommate was babying her. When speaking to her mom, Francie says that she enjoys writing, and her mom says sarcastically, “Sure you like to write. Of course.” The fact that her mother won’t outright tell her that she doesn’t like that Francie is writing may make her feel like her mom isn’t treating her like an adult. Other people also ask Francie if writing was some kind of fantasy of hers, which says that it’ll never be a reality. They have no faith in her abilities, but they’re trying to cover it up to sound polite. This makes Francie feel alone because no one will truthfully talk to her anymore.
The last time the phrase is used, it is to describe a date she is on where the man’s face is as blank as a sheet of paper. While she is talking, the man begins smoothing all his arm hair in one direction. He is clearly uncomfortable in the conversation about her writing and distracts himself. He seems to see Francie as a crazy artist who has no real talent, so the world’s perception of her hasn’t changed since the beginning of the story. While tracking the phrase “as blank as”, you can see Francie’s progression of her reactions to the lack of support. She is used to no one believing in her by the end. I would like to incorporate a repeating phrase in my fiction to see how it keeps the reader’s attention.
The second craft element I followed was theme. I believe the theme is her confusion with her own identity. The very first words from the story are “First, try to be something, anything, else” which sounds like she isn’t very confident in what she is doing now. This confusion continues into her college life when she thinks her placement in creative writing class was fate. If you believe in fate, it is like you have no control over your own life because it’s been planned out for you. Francie may feel like everything in her life, including her being a writer, is simply happening to her without her being able to affect it. Francie also has a hard time committing to one thing. She tries comedies and attempts to focus on the syllables in writing. She also switches majors. Her inability to stick to one thing is because she isn’t sure who she wants to be yet. Her teachers also confuse her. The first professor is “stressing the Power of Imagination. Which means he doesn’t want long descriptive stories about your camping trip last July” but then her second professor wants personal experiences and camping trips. These two conflicting people in her writing career could’ve only confused her.
The lines “Begin to wonder what you do write about. Or if you have anything to say. Or if there even is such a thing as a thing to say. Limit these thoughts to no more than ten minutes a day; like sit-ups, they can make you thin” are very important to the theme. Francie starts to question whether her writing is saying anything since she doesn’t know what she wants to say. Her uncertainty about her identity is overwhelming and stressful, which is why she says she must limit the thoughts or else she’ll become thin. Writing can help you find out more about yourself. Francie isn’t ready to figure out who she is yet, so she feels safe in her other classes. Also, at the end when she compares writing to polio, this is saying that writing is hurting her. Throughout the story, we see that Francie does hurt herself to get through her writing. This shows that she doesn’t understand herself yet. At the very end of the story when she is looking at coleslaw on a menu, she says how it looks like “the soggy confetti of a map: where you’ve been, where you’re going- “You are Here,” says the red star on the back of the menu.” Francie is obviously lost about her individuality. She is trying to figure it out by looking back at her past and where she plans to go next, but she finds herself on the back of the menu, which is kind of nowhere. This reflects the theme throughout the whole story.
- How did the writer portray Francie’s feelings toward her own writing and how did it grow throughout the story?
- How does the mother add to the theme?