Doing laundry from the trip yesterday, I had plenty of time to review and consider some of the concepts we discussed in the workshop last week.
One of my favorites was "de-familiarization," the practice of taking a well-known image or feeling and describing it with a combination of words no one's heard before. For me, getting to the 'de-familiar" is always a matter of loosening my grip on realism long enough to let new ideas in. The most fun I ever have writing is when I relax and let that happen.
Here's the interesting thing: Anthony reminded us that even these new and unfamiliar descriptions need to evoke what he calls a "stab of actuality." In other words, as writers, we're searching for fresh, vivid descriptions put together in unfamiliar phrases, but to be successful these have to be spot on, they have to elicit the intake of breath that accompanies being stabbed with the sharp stick of utter reality.
Quite a trick, don't you think?
Check out Anthony Doerr's novel About Grace or his collection of short stories, The Shell Collector. I haven't read his new book (non-fiction) yet, but expect to love Four Seasons in Rome, too.
Let me tell you, the man is almost as amazing a teacher as he is a writer. And a damn nice guy.