Workshop Comments for Sean Spicer

March 30, 2017 § 9 Comments

467e35ce-e050-11e6-8fcb-68eb4ed74971_1280x720Dear Sean,

Thanks for sharing your messages. Overall, what I understand your work to be about is that facts don’t matter. If that’s not the intended meaning, I can point to a few examples of misdirection you might consider revising.

One strength of your messages is the consistency of the tone. The narrator’s voice is strong and appropriate for the perceived purpose of the work. So, good job with that. Your messages certainly feel new in their divergence from recent conventions, such as your use of “ramspecking,” which you informed us is a phenomenon that “is going back since the beginning of time.” The term itself hasn’t been used since the 90s, so by using it the current context you were able to make it sound new and exciting and slightly diabolical. What fun!

Another element that is working well in your messages is the sense of urgency. The stakes are high. That being said, at times it seems the narrator is withholding to increase the tension. For example, after a reporter asked you about FBI Director Comey’s announcement that there was no evidence of wiretapping, your response was:

What I’m getting at is that there’s a lot of information that we have come to learn about what happened in terms of surveillance throughout the 2016 election and the transition. And when you look at somebody like Michael Flynn, and you realize that, while they might have been looking at somebody else at that time, how does somebody’s name that’s protected by law from being disclosed get put out in public? Why was it put out in the public? Because the people in the intelligence community would have had access to that information. They could have found out who it was. But yet, you’ve got to question, why was a name that should have been protected by law from being put out into the public domain, put out there? What were the motives behind that? What else do we need to know?

Ambiguity should be purposeful not confusing. Withholding to create suspense is essentially manipulation. Even if the manipulation is unintended, it is unnecessary to artificially inflate the stakes, which are naturally compelling. You are working too hard; let the material work through you.

A couple places that could use some attention are the consistency and clarity of the content. It could be the lack of consistency causing the issues with clarity. Or, maybe, it’s actually the content itself that is causing the problem. In response to questions about Trump’s ties to Russia, you said, “There is a whole second set of concerns here in terms of what was Hillary Clinton’s role. When you look at the Obama history—the Obama administration and the Clinton’s involvement with Russia in terms of donations that the Clintons received from Russian entities, the idea that they sold off a tremendous amount of the uranium to the Russian government, and yet where was the concern for that? What are we doing to look into that?” Answering a question with a question is not the most rhetorically effective choice. In this case, the reader is pulled out of the narrative. Try not to disrupt the dream.

There is a lot of telling, which isn’t in and of itself a problem. It’s just that as it is, there isn’t enough showing to ground the reader. Like when you said, “This was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.” Instead of telling, show the reader that this was true. Perhaps, consider using a photo? As a result of this overreliance on telling, the abstract moralizing doesn’t feel earned. At times the exposition feels repetitive and recursive. Here again, some scenes showing specific facts on the ground might justify, or perhaps change, the story in the sky. One easy fix would be to address inconsistencies in the use of pronouns. For example, the pronouns switch between “we” and “them” rather quickly and neither is clearly defined: “That’s why we slow it down and make sure that if they are a five year old that maybe they’re with their parents and they don’t pose a threat. . . . To assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be wrong.” The binary “us versus them“ trope, if that is what is meant, is overused and tired. This may be the one case in which more creativity rather than less is advised.

Finally, and this too could be a consequence of content, the arc isn’t clear. While the stakes are high, they are always high. There is no building or resolution. This may be why the pace feels both stilted and jarring. You might consider slowing down, maybe getting closer. As encouraged above, showing, using scenes and specific examples might be a way to close that narrative distance. Also, you might experiment with switching to present tense or including another point-of-view to shake things up. It doesn’t feel like this piece is what it wants to be yet. Some of these changes might help it figure out what it needs to be.

As always, do what you want. It’s your work.


But it’s also mine.

Morgan Riedl lives in Fort Collins, where she writes, rides horses, and practices jui jitsu. She will be graduating from Colorado State University with an MA in creative nonfiction this May. She’s currently working on a collection of personal essays on the body.

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§ 9 Responses to Workshop Comments for Sean Spicer

  • Nina Gaby says:

    Strong work. Sharing.

  • Karen says:

    Excellent! Fun, meaningful, clever, fun! Thanks for writing this!

  • Debby Thompson says:

    Morgan, you nailed it!

  • Sue Repko says:

    “Try not to disrupt the dream.” That pretty much says it all.

    This was delightful in a depressing sort of way. Thanks!

  • Nice try at assisting Spicer, he is a lost cause. He is trying to rationalize and normalize lies, fraud, coverups and probably some acts of treason. It is hard to make all of the above make sense, BECAUSE, the do not make sense. Nice try, lol smh

  • Anna says:

    Spicer follows in the honorable tradition most recently represented by Bushisms and Rumsfeldisms. We may hope that some of his utterances will be succinct enough to be extracted as stand-alone gems, thus qualifying to be called Spicerisms.

  • cgahres says:

    Loving the consistent use of the unreliable narrator!

    Everyone hates SS (oops), so please give credit where credit it due.

  • Sue J says:

    Brilliant! I’ve not been able to put words to why my ears bleed when listening to Mr. Spicer. Picked up recently on the pronouns issue but regarded it as just PART of the overall confusing message he routinely delivers. Thanks for the breakdown of a typical Spicer meltdown.

  • […] Morgan Riedl (MA in CNF, 2017) has a piece up on Brevity’s blog.  It’s a hermit crab essay in the form of a workshop critique of Sean Spicer’s press conferences.  You can read it here: […]

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