MFA Nugget: Are You Sharing an Anecdote or Writing an Artful Story?

You crack people up at dinner parties. It seems there’s no end to your ability to draw a smile with a quick take on a past event. With so much material, writing it should be a cinch.

Right?

Humorist and writer Sarah Braud, more than just a dinner entertainer.

That is what Sarah Braud once thought. Sarah graduates today from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program, and is one of the funniest people I know. She came to VCFA, she said in her graduating lecture, to better write her many “anecdotes,” as she calls them. What she learned–after a great deal of active resistance–is that turning a verbal anecdote into a compellingly written story means turning that anecdote into art. And it ain’t easy.

Every work of literature, she learned, has a situation–the types of humorous anecdotes she cracks us all up with–and a story, that goes beyond the incident in question.

She quoted VCFA instructor and dedicated essayist Patrick Madden in saying that there must be some reason a writer writes; he then writes about it; and in so doing the writer tells us why he is writing about it. Sarah learned that it is the “why” that can be left out of that dinner quip.

Sarah also said that novelist Robin Hemley has written that it is the character that is important, not the incident. So the who also gets left out, the deeper who.

I’ve spent more time with Sarah’s quips than I have with her writing. But when I attended her graduation reading, it was clear that she is finding a way to draw smiles while trying to “go deeper,” as VCFA instructor Larry Sutin wrote repeatedly on her creative writing packets. (Larry was my advisor last semester; I saw those same two words written many, many times.)

I suspect Sarah Braud could one day become a household name; in the meantime, you can read some of her published works. And when her writing draws a smile to your face, savor the deeper meaning she also has given you. Oh, and try to find a way to invite her to your next dinner party; she still knows how to entertain off the page.

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

4 Responses to “MFA Nugget: Are You Sharing an Anecdote or Writing an Artful Story?”

  1. As usual, you point your readers in an enlightening direction. (Seriously. I don’t often click the links on other blogs, not many anyway. But here, I do.) Thanks again.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. MFA Nugget: An Entire MFA in Writing Residency in One Post « The Artist's Road - July 8, 2012

    […] Are You Sharing an Anecdote or an Artful Story? July 6, 2012. […]

  2. The Truth About Processed Luncheon Meat and Creativity « The Artist's Road - July 10, 2012

    […] the other day about a graduating Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing student who has learned how to turn her funny stories into literary essays. Well, “The Truth About Spam” is an example of just […]

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