What follows is the table of contents to the workbook as well as parts of three chapters. This will give you a good idea about the extensive scope of the material. If you have any questions please do get a hold of me.
Introduction to Creative Writing
· Exercise: One sentence bio
· Exercise: Sentence innovation
· Journal Entry
· Homework: First person narratives - biography
· Exercise: Spicing up the facts
· Journal Entry
· Homework: Draft of first piece – expanded biography
The Elements of Storytelling
· Exercise: Choosing elements for your story
· Journal Entry
· Workshop: Manuscript #1
· Homework: Rewrite first draft and/or begin second
Just Say It! – Writing Dialogue
· Exercise: Start talking!
· Exercise: Character development
· Workshop: Manuscript #1 or #2
· Homework: Rewrite previous drafts or begin third draft
The Nitty Gritty - Plot
· Exercise: Plot outline
· Journal Entry
· Workshop: Rewrites or draft #3
· Homework: Final manuscript
The Writer’s Life
· Exercise: First Sentences
· Workshop: Final manuscript
The 7 Basic Plots
Introduction to Creative Writing Workshop
This workshop has been designed to accelerate your creativity and get you started on writing projects. Whether you’re aiming for poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, the purpose here is to get you writing through the use of tools, prompts, exercises and ideas. By the end of the workshop you will understand the concepts of character, setting, dialogue, scene and plot and will have written several original pieces.
What follows is a series of readings and exercises, some of which will be completed during this workshop and others that may be done on your own. The material is divided like this:
READING – Completed before each class
EXERCISE – To do in class
JOURNAL ENTRY – Both in class and out
HOMEWORK – Completed between classes
Along with this packet you will need something to write in - a journal or binder – to use as a workbook. The exercises are pre-requisites for the journal entries which will be started in class and can be continued at your own pace. In turn, the journal entries will be used to compose the first drafts of your writing projects.
What you learn here can be applied to all forms of writing. The same basic elements of storytelling are used in everything from a newspaper article to a literary short story, from a blog to an autobiography.
Once you have some writing down on paper, we’ll take a look at ways to extract the concepts you like most and start the process of fine-tuning them. Peer review will be established in a workshop setting for those interested in participating.
WORKSHOP: The word “workshopping” has come to mean the process of peer review of writing in a round table setting. For those interested in participating, copies of your work will be submitted to the rest of the group a week or so in advance for reading and review. Then during class, time will be set aside in order for the piece to be read out loud and the critiques shared. You will then have the choice of rewriting the draft or submitting a new piece for another session.
This is about broad strokes, not the little details. Think of this stage as applying the gesso to the canvas before you begin to paint. The idea here is to begin. Don’t think much about the big picture quite yet, just let yourself get some ideas down. Share, borrow, quote, or lift! You can’t go wrong here…
EXERCISE: One sentence bio (5 minutes)
As with all good workshops, let's start by sharing some information about who we are. Answer these questions:
What is your name?
What year were you born?
What event(s) or other notable things occurred the year you were born? If you don't know, draw on something from your early years.
Now, string the sentences together into one. For example:
“My name is Laura and I was born in 1958, the year of the dog and stereophonic sound.”
EXERCISE: Expanded bio (15 minutes)
More about you. Jot down an answer to each of the following questions:
What kind of day are you having?
What's a favorite song, book, or movie?
Where are you happiest?
What's something you're good at?
Which family member or friend keeps you most excited about life?
Who is someone you miss?
What is a mistake people often make about you?
What's your favorite social activity?
What magical power would you like to have?
What country are you longing to visit?
When combined, it will look something like this:
I'm having a marvelous day. My favorite movie is “The Razor's Edge.” I'm happiest when I'm reading. I'm good at playing guitar. My grandson keeps me excited about life. I miss my friend Erin from college. People often mistake me for an extravert. My favorite social activity is camping. If I could have a magical power it would be to fly. I'm longing to visit Botswana.
The result is a brief and informative bio but without any color or imagination. In other words – boring! So how to go about spicing it up?
EXERCISE: Sentence innovation (15 minutes)
Write one sentence in response to each of the prompts below. When you're finished, the end result should read as a continuous whole.
For example: Write a sentence with a wall or boundary in it:
“Even though the boundary between our land and theirs spanned several acres, the distance seemed but a shout away.”
“All we needed to accomplish that summer was finishing the mortar on the wall.
Now, your turn. Write a sentence with...
· a wall or boundary in it
· a gesture
· a line of dialogue or two with six words or less in each
· light in it
· a line of dialogue of ten words or more
· a ceiling or floor in it
· an object smaller than a hand
· a sentence fragment
· a piece of furniture
· a line of dialogue that's a question
· a hand or fingers in it
· a line of dialogue that is whispered
JOURNAL ENTRY: (15 minutes)
Now let's write a first-person narrative using all the prompts in the second exercise. Use as many details from the first exercise as you can. Don't give a thought to “fact” or “fiction.” There will be plenty of time later to determine when you want to separate the two.
Here's an example:
“Some would say I wasted the whole summer sitting on the stone wall, reading or playing my guitar. References were made to how the temperature was perfect for grouting. I ignored everything except the voice of my grandson. Heads turned each time someone drove by. “Oh, whatever,” I muttered to myself.
“But finally another day would end and the darkness gave me a bona fide excuse to not have to work on that damn wall. “But are you going to just leave it the way it is?” my neighbor asked. “Seems a shame after all the hard work you done.”
“I'd taken to sleeping on the floor. Since my plans to spend the summer camping with Erin had swiftly changed, I felt compelled to rough it anyway. The only other reason was it seemed I needed the feel of the polished wide planks beneath me. One drawback to this bright idea was that it made it easier for the spiders to reach me. Who knows? Every since we'd all arrived a month ago it was clear there were more serious answers needed than whether or not to sleep on the bed. I moved my hand far enough from my face until its shape disappeared in the dark. “I wish I could fly away,” I whispered to myself.
Yay! You're writing! Easy, hunh? Compare the differences between the two sets of writing. The second is much more compelling and interesting. Perhaps you’re inspired to continue with the story you started or maybe return to the expanded bio and make it come alive.
Elements of Storytelling
From the 100 word flash fiction piece to a thousand page history book, all storytelling contains the same basic elements. In this section the use of the word “story” can mean non-fiction, poetry, song lyrics, a travel blog… any written (or oral) piece used to communicate information. Although there are different techniques for various forms, a good story has a character(s), a setting, and some sort of conflict to resolve.
A character doesn’t have to be a human nor does she have to be alive. Amazing characters have been created out of dogs, aliens, and ghosts. What’s most important is that the characters you create are authentic and believable. There is no denying that E.T. was real, regardless of whether or not one believes in extraterrestrials.
Setting and Time
Every piece of writing includes a setting which can also be thought of as a backdrop. The setting establishes the time, place, and context of the story. A writer will select a particular setting for many reasons – as a motive, a metaphor, to create conflict or a mood. The passage of
time is also important. A writer can use scene, summary, or flashbacks to show the passage of time.
The setting refers to the time, place, and context of the story. In Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” location is critical. Set in the Yukon, the man is traveling through the winter snow with his dog, the temperature is 50 below zero, and if he doesn’t get to the camp by nightfall he (and the dog) will die. Without this particular location there would be no story. The writer must create a setting which allows the reader to suspend disbelief and continue reading. In order for this to occur the setting must be believable. This is not to say that it must be true. All sorts of genres of writing rely on settings that can’t possibly be true – science fiction is a prime example. But yet a good writer can make any setting completely believable.
The setting also includes the time of the story. Time is fictional, not real. Stories can take place during a specific period of time, such as a conversation, hour, few hours, or few days. Sometimes the stories span many years. In addition, the story will take place within a particular social, political, economic, or historical context.
The role of setting
The most important reason for setting is to create a backdrop for the story. A setting can be established in various ways. Here’s a look at some:
Sometimes setting is the conflict of the story. The setting stresses the tension between the main character and the setting. A common example of this is man vs. nature. For instance, in London’s story the conflict is between the man traveling on foot in the cold and snow of winter. He attempts to hike with his dog to a camp site where his friends are. In order to succeed he must endure snow, ice, and cold. He is in a race against nature. Without this particular setting there is no story.
Setting can also act as a metaphor of the story. In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” the dialogue of the story reveals the metaphorical nature of the setting with the hills representing fertility.
· Atmosphere or Mood
Edgar Allen Poe uses gruesome moods to add to the tension of the story. In doing so he reveals the character’s emotional and psychological state.
A character’s actions can be driven by motive as in Tom Franklin’s “Alaska,” a story about a planned trip. The writer tells the story about what would happen if the trip were to take place, how the men would quit their jobs, sell their cars, leave their girlfriends, and set out for Alaska to start a new life. The story begins with, “Our aim was this: Alaska.”
Since time in a story isn’t real the writer must make is seem as though it is. Here are some examples of how to do so:
By summarizing, a writer can explain blocks of time in the past in order to bring the reader up to the present, providing the reader with an understand of what has happened previously.
A typical scene includes setting, dialogue, and action. All of these can establish a sense of time for the reader. A scene will have a beginning, middle, and end which will evoke the passage of time.
A writer can employ the technique of flashbacks to share information about what occurred in the past. Often a writer will deploy a flashback to write about something significant that happened in the character’s past which allows the reader to understand the story in the present.
The Writer’s Life
There is advice for writers everywhere, scores and heaps of advice for writers, books on the craft, articles on publishing, blogs with prompts and tips… a seemingly inexhaustible source of advice for writers.
However, there are two things that determine the success of a writer more than anything else: reading and writing. Your writer’s voice and style will emerge the more you do both. You can improve your style and develop your own voice by studying what you read. Ultimately, you will write what you read.
More than all the how-to books however, the memoirs by writers themselves may prove to be the most rewarding and insightful. The art of writing boils down to living the “writer’s life” whether it’s a block of time after the kids are in bed or on a daily, intensive basis. The list of memoirs, as well as other reference materials, are at the end of this packet.
As much advice as there is for writers there’s even more for readers. For centuries writing has been analyzed by scholars and academics. However, it’s absolutely possible for anyone to study outside the hallowed halls of academia, either on one’s own or in groups. Your goal as a reader intent upon writing is to pay attention to language, realizing that the author has, in all cases, paid painstaking attention to each word.
As an example, here’s a poem by Anne Sexton. There are so many things going on here it would take some time to analyze, but by merely reading it through one is left with vivid imagery due to the language.
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Each genre of writing demands a particular use of language. It’s possible to make a comparison to painting, where every brush stroke is like a word. Michelangelo, for example, with his layers upon layers and minute attention to detail could be representative of a novel. Modigliani on the other hand, paints only the essence of a character while still presenting a complete picture, much like a short story.
Franz Kline, an abstract expressionist, is similar to a poet employing only the barest detail in broad strokes.
Some first sentences
The first sentence of a story reveals a great deal of what’s to come. Often, in hindsight, it can be read as a synopsis for the whole piece. Here’s a look at some famous ones:
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is, where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” Cather in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
“They shoot the white girl first.” Paradise, Toni Morrison
“It began as a mistake.” Post Office, Charles Bukowski
“To put us at our ease, to quiet our hearts as she lay dying, our dear friend Selena said, Life, after all, has not been an unrelieved horror – you know, I did have many wonderful years with her.” “Friends” from Later the Same Day, Grace Paley
“I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.” The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maugham
“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
EXERCISE: (30 minutes)
Write some first sentences of your own. Work in conjunction with something you’re already writing or use this exercise to spawn new ideas. Or, if you prefer, use the examples below as prompts.
There wasn’t nearly enough light.
It wasn’t her fault.
It was Sunday, so there shouldn’t have been a letter in the mailbox.
The train was late today.
The snow fell late into the night.
No one thought to look in the trunk.