Monday, July 9, 2012

Lessons from the Workshop Yurt

Post by Jenny

On Saturday, my city hosted its first Old Town Book Fair. The event included used and new books for sale, Real Live Authors, music, fun for kids, and free workshops. In a yurt. (Apologies to anyone who was picturing said yurt off in the wilderness, accessible only with the help of sherpas and highly trained guide marmots. Come to think of it, that would make for a much more exciting post.)

I attended the hour-long Writing and Publishing Short Stories workshop given by author Bonnie Nadzam. I’m fascinated by short stories and would like to write them well and often. Story ideas pop into my head on a regular basis. Occasionally, I write them down. But for Bonnie, the power of a story doesn’t come from the head. It comes from the body—from a clenching stomach or a flushing cheek, from a leaping heart or a prickling scalp.

The writer doesn’t even need to understand the sensation. In fact, too much understanding is bad because it means the brain is not getting out of the way. Instead, the writer must “pull on the thread of the unknown” to discover what lies beneath. If it is poignant, that’s a good place to start. If it is surprising, all the better, because that can mean the difference between creating something new and merely recording the familiar.

With emotion (integrating exposition, psychology, and character) as a jumping-off place, a story can then be layered with motive, action, and plot. This feels backwards to me, as I usually begin with a plot-based idea, a “what-if-x-happened-to-y?” premise. But thanks to Bonnie’s imagery exercise, I got a taste of what starting with emotion and building from there feels like. And I can understand how that method creates depth and conflict within even the shortest fiction (one of Bonnie’s examples, Richard Ford’s Where the Earth Disappears, is only 73 words long.)

As for the Publishing part of things…you know what’s coming, right? There is no magic bullet. Write, revise, and submit as much as possible, even when you’ve reached the point where you feel you could, as Bonnie put it, “build a sod house” out of your rejections. (I’m not quite there but could probably add quite a nice front porch to my home.)

Have you tried your hand at writing short stories?


Andrea Mack said...

Interesting post. I usually start from plot when I write, but it would be fun to experiment and try starting from the emotions and see where that goes.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I hated missing the first Old Town Book Fair. Sounds like it was a big success.

Yes, I've tried writing short stories but haven't been published in anything that pays yet. It's a lot different from writing novels, and in my opinion, more difficult.

Dean K Miller said...

I've written a couple. Haven't pursued much in the way of submitting. Wish I could've made the fair...

patti.mallett_pp said...

What a great thing to do!! Wow! What fun.

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