Sunday, February 01, 2015

M3 Writer's Workshop: Month 1

Starting the M3 Writer's Workshop this month. I'm hoping we get full participation from our writing contributors. The idea is one that I've been brewing for a while. I wanted to get some feedback and motivation from other writer's who wanted to work their writing muscles. Each month I'll introduce a series of writing exercises designed to stimulate different aspects of the writing craft. It's basically designed to be modular so that each exercise has a beginner level, intermediate and advanced option. It's very similar to a workout video where the instructor does one for of the exercise and then others in the back demonstrate the easy and hard variations of the same movement. We'll also be reading a book to discuss at the end of the month.

Reading Assignment : Who's Afraid of Post Blackness

Writing Assignment: 2500 -5000 words

Use one or any combination of the following three exercises

1. Beginner level

Write a story from your own experience that includes three characters who are in conflict with each other. For example, dramatize a social gathering where two or more people argue. Or suppose you visited a family member who disagreed about a memory of past events. Include conversation, observations, and thoughts in a single scene.

Write a story from a small idea. Too often, we think we need to write about something big and important in order to make the story good, but we don't. Out of a big idea, a bad story is easily written. Out of a small idea, some of the best insights about human nature have been made. A small story is a good place to start because you won't feel as overwhelmed by the need to include unnecessary details. If the story overwhelms you, it will probably overwhelm your reader. Out of a comfortingly small idea, a large story usually evolves, so relax, and allow the lowered expectations release your inner creativity.

2. Intermediate Level

Imagine that cloning human beings is now possible and that your clone is in much better shape than you. He doesn't weigh as much as you, He looks a little better, he makes more money, he doesn't have the bad knee, he is more muscular, better spoken, he is possibly a perfect version of you. "The double" is a classical theme in which the basic story idea is already given, but treat it as something fresh. Psychologically, this is a stimulating theme. We all have in us doubles that embody our better or worse aspects than what we exhibit in our daily lives. Examining yourself in competition with your saintly or demonic side is a great way to develop complex characters.

The benefit of doing this exercise is that you'll create a character with psychological depth, someone at odds with himself, in an essential conflict of the soul. In fiction, nearly all external conflicts are hollow. If there is no character to internalize the external conflict, then your story will fall flat. A divided self generally lends depth to the action you dramatize. Here, we can take the divided self literally and externalize that conflict.

Let the two characters compete, perhaps like Cain and Abel, for wealth, glory or love. Or perhaps the two fall in love with each other only to discover they only love their double because they are both narcissistic. If the outline of events doesn't excite you, choose a story you love and rewrite it using your two selves as the protagonist and antagonist of the story. Determine what setting the characters are working in and plan an intense scene of conflict in which one of them is getting the honors and the other one is pushed to the edge of insanity. Write from the first-person point of view of the insanely jealous character. The jealous one needn't be the  imperfect character; perhaps it would be more interesting to observe from the viewpoint of the perfect but inexperienced clone.

3. Advanced level

If you have experienced an unrequited love, write a scene in which your love is requited. Then, fast forward to the end of that relationship and write how the relationship ends. Then back up and construct a few scenes in the middle to explain a progression of conflict that leads up the the end of the relationship. There is no story if there is no major problem. Imagine some major obstacle for the relationship. Perhaps your dream lover has recently accepted a new job in a city and you must stay to care for a sick family member, maybe he has been sentenced to life in prison for a crime you committed and he is taking the blame for you,  maybe he has a terminal illness and you can't cope with watching him die, or he has gone crazy and wants to kill you because he thinks you are the devil. Either way the event should be heartbreaking to both you and the reader.

Remember to write from an unresolved real life experience. There's usually enough energy, emotionally, to make a strong story.  Gradually fictionalize yourself and your love interest. Create a persona, in the first person, who will have your voice and your style of thinking, but who will have different biographical facts. Don't write sentimentally. With love, it's too easy to get melodramatic and cliched in the conflicts that you devise. Try your best to be both original and universal.

This is an advanced exercise for two reasons. It's really easy to write this exercise badly, and it can be too painful for some. Don't use flowery language to describe your lover. Don't make overstatements about how eternal your love is. Instead, sharply concentrate on two or three scenes and what happens. First the seduction, second the conflict, third, the resolution. It's really easy to romanticize someone who you once loved, especially unrequited first loves. Give an unromanticized, perhaps satirical or even sordid, version of what the love would have been like if it had worked—just to go against the grain, and try to surprise even yourself.

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