- fiction (craft)
- all levels learn from this workshop
- Presentation, in-class writing and interactive critique
- Needs: handouts at session OR ability to project writing task info from a computer
- Bonus: will email instructive chapters from Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling to people who sign up for the workshop
Three things that workshoppers will learn:
- 1. how to add dimension and characterization to description of scenes and characters
- 2. how to utilize beats in dialogue to add depth, move story, characterize
- 3. how to better create the experience of the story in a reader’s mind
Writers work hard to deliver the experience of a story, to evoke in the reader’s mind a visceral experiencing of what is happening. Two primary tools for doing that are description and dialogue. Those who sign up for the workshop will be emailed two free educational chapters in advance of the conference that focus on the topics to be covered; they are excerpts from Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling
So much description we read in novels is no more than a snapshot, a listing of the parts of a scene that is no richer in content or experience than what a camera could give us. It just is what it is.
But in a novel a scene doesn’t have to just be “what it is.” Description of a scene, an object, or a person is an opportunity to set mood and to characterize the characters featured in the scene. That characterization can take place if the description is filtered through the mind of the point-of-view character. It can take on new dimensions created by the nuances a character’s beliefs, feelings, objectives, etc. bring.
I call it experiential description. A simple example: Steve, a young man, sees a woman in a blue dress.
- Snapshot: Sheila’s dress was blue.
- Experiential: Sheila’s dress was the same sleazy blue Steve’s mother had worn whenever she went out to get drunk.
Workshoppers are given a snapshot description of a scene and two characters to work with. They write an experiential description of that scene from the two characters’ points of view, striving to include all the elements that the reader “sees.” Then workshoppers read their descriptions and a critique follows. Here is the stimulus material used for the description part of the workshop:
Exercise 1: experiential description
Setting snapshot: The Montana courtroom gleams with polished oak—the judge's bench, the railings, the prosecution and defense tables. The court stenographer is a trim forty-year old, dressed in a gray suit with a mini-skirt. The judge is a rotund black man wearing reading glasses on the tip of his nose as he surveys the defendant and then the prosecutor.
- 1. Earl is the defendant, 24, a habitual criminal facing his third trial, this time for criminal assault. Raised in Georgia, he hates authority and hates blacks.
- 2. Greg is the prosecutor, fifty, often world-weary with the never-ending stream of criminals and the evil he sees each day. He is fired up for this trial though—the defendant beat a 12-year-old boy nearly to death. He is glad to see Judge Bell, the hanging judge, presiding. And Judy, the stenographer he has been dating for the last two years.
Describe the setting from each point of view. Include everything you see in the snapshot. Workshoppers will read their descriptions aloud for a critique.
The second part of the workshop focuses on the use of “beats” in dialogue to give it dimension: to characterize, to inform, to advance story/plot. Dialogue beats can be action, description and characterization of aspects of people, place, or action, internal monologue, and more. Skilled use of dialogue beats can also eliminate the need for dialogue tags, thus making the narrative even crisper.
As an editor, I see the addition of beats that do nothing to characterize or enrich the story. A short example, an actual bit of a scene from a first draft by a published author: A man and a woman sit at a table in a café, talking about a woman (his wife/her friend) who has been missing for over a week. In the course of the conversation in the woman’s point of view, this happens:
A man from the next table asked to borrow the extra chair to my right. As I nodded, Robert said, “I have not told you everything.”
“Her car was found abandoned in Stewart State Park.”
“Oh my God! When? How long after…”