On September 24, the Cleveland Heights/University Heights Parents’ Book Club began its 2013-14 season and I was invited to offer a writing workshop. The idea was well received and 11 people have signed up. It’s going to be an interesting year as I share with them what I have learned about writing and encourage them to find their inner muses. Below is the outline that I drafted to guide us through our new adventure.
Discussion Topics for Writing Workshop
- Write about what you know or learn about what you don’t know
- Writing categories: Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenplay, stage play, journalism
- Types of prose: Novel, short story, essay, memoir
- Writing genres: romance, family, biography, autobiography, science fiction, horror, crime thriller, historical, ethnic, comedy, spiritual, teen or young adult, children’s, sports, etc.
- Types of structure: 3 acts or the Hero’s Journey
- Keep a journal or make notes whenever you can. Use a hand-held tape recorder if you can. Many middle-of-the-night inspirations are lost when you’re too sleepy to get up and write them down. J
- Set aside a time to write if you can. Otherwise write as often as you can. Thinking about what you’re going to write is still part of writing but get it on paper or into a computer file as soon as possible.
- Once you decide on a topic and a structure, start writing! Try not to self-edit as you go. The instinct is to want it to come out perfectly the first time but the truth is all writing is re-writing. Supposedly Taylor Caldwell, author of many novels including Captains & Kings, thought about her book for a long time and then transferred it to a typewriter without having to edit a single word. I think that’s an Urban Myth so don’t try to be like Taylor Caldwell.
- Topics to consider: plot, scene development, character, dialogue, POV
- Plot: know how you want your story to end so you’ll have a destination for your journey. This doesn’t mean there won’t be forks in the road but you can deal with those when you come to them. Maybe the end will change but that will be a natural evolution of your writing.
- Scene development: get into the action of each scene as soon as possible and then get out, make one scene flow into the next, don’t give away too much too soon.
- Character: write a biography for each of your characters so you know who they are. Develop a style for each character including looks, mannerisms and language so they are all colorful and distinctive.
- Dialogue: keep it crisp and brief. People don’t usually talk in long, rambling passages unless they’re giving a speech.
- Point of View or narrative voice: don’t switch POV’s in the middle of a scene unless you need to do so to tell your story. But if you do, make it clear which POV you’re in. Writing in 3rd person is usually the omniscient POV so you have more leeway.
- Finishing: a book is usually about 50,000 words minimum which is roughly 250-300 pages. But don’t let that scare you. Start out small. An essay or a short story or a poem is more than enough to get the ball rolling. If you discover that you like writing, you may find words you never knew were there. Be prepared to read and re-read your finished product until you’ve edited and proofread to perfection. That’s sometimes the hardest part. (I’ll testify to that) Get someone to help you if necessary.
The 3-Act Structure
- Beginning (setup, introduction, exposition, problem, etc.)
- Middle (confrontation, rising action, tension, conflict, growth, etc.)
- End (resolution, falling action, denouement, solution, closure, etc.)
The Hero’s Journey
- The Ordinary World
- The Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting with the Mentor
- Crossing the Threshold
- Tests, Allies & Enemies
- The Ordeal
- The Reward
- The Road Back
- The Resurrection
- Return with the Elixir