By Edo Steinberg
This semester Whitney Eklof, Dustin Ritchea and an undergraduate are cooking up something novel. As part of an independent study with Susan Kelly, the two graduate students will each write a 150-page novel, the undergrad will write a comic book, and Susan herself will write a script. All four will critique each other’s work on a weekly basis.
“I talked to Susan, as my advisor, about courses I should take this semester,” Whitney says. “We got on the topic of writing, because I had been in her scriptwriting class previously and she had seen some of my work. She asked if I had been doing any writing. I said I hadn’t done any in a while, but I’d like to. Susan being Susan, she got excited and said ‘take an independent study with me and just write.’”
“I got an email from Susan asking me if I want to join,” says Dustin. “I just jumped on board. I didn’t have to get it approved, because Whitney had done all the legwork. I owe her one.”
“When I was an undergraduate here, I minored in creative writing,” says Whitney. “I was in a lot of classes in the English department, but it was all short stories. With a novel, the big difference is the planning, making sure you have enough content. Before, I would just sit and write, without planning ahead.”
One approach is to start with an outline of the plot. Another is to outline details about characters. “For me, it’s been helpful so far,” Whitney says. “Even simple things, like going through my main characters – what do they like or dislike. I have a character who dislikes the smell of roses. It’s just a little quirky trait he has. Thinking about those little individual things gives you more things to play with when you’re writing.”
Dustin also has a degree in creative writing, as well as scriptwriting. “Writing novels is different. I like it a little bit better. With a novel, I can go anywhere and do anything, and if something fails, I can go back and fix it. When I’m writing a play or for media, I’m always thinking about the final product. I’m always thinking about what it’ll look like when it’s done. I’m not writing this particular page, I’m writing the entire finished vision.”
Dustin came to the class with a story in mind. Whitney didn’t. “That was the challenge at first,” Whitney says. “Coming up with something I was interested in enough to dedicate an entire semester to.”
As mentioned above, not only will the students’ work be critiqued, so will Susan’s. This won’t be the first time that Whitney will be voicing her opinions about Susan’s scripts. “Between the time I graduated as an undergraduate and coming here as a graduate student, Susan sent me some work and I critiqued it for her. Last semester she also sent me a screenplay that she and Robby Benson are working on.”
“That will be an interesting experience,” Dustin says about criticizing Susan’s work. “I did it in high school with a teacher, but I was brash and arrogant. This time will be different,” he laughs.