One aspect of the residency that I enjoy most is the chance to learn from my workshop partners. Kelly Easton and I teach at Rhode Island College's ASTAL Institute each June, but we haven't run a workshop together, so I was delighted to be paired with her this time. Kelly gives each student in workshop "designer homework," an assignment geared to his or her individual stories. Even if the assignment was focused on story structure, each writer had to include these words: Umbrella. Ravishing. Hurtle. Onions. We gave out the assignments on Day Two of workshop, received them on Day Five and discussed them on Day Six.
During the final workshop, we all took turns reading the new pages out loud, so that the writer could hear the words in someone else's voice. The new scenes showed the power of revision as writers wrote dialogue without tags, opened up hot spots, used sensory detail to nail a setting, added action to reveal emotion, or changed a story's structure. We were already invested in their stories, but the revisions showed the power of seeing a story anew. We laughed at the creative use of totem words, and the new scenes made us hungry to know what would happen next.
Finally, Kelly threw out a wild card that last morning: she asked us to jot down, at random, three things we would add to our stories. I found this exercise illuminating. Now that I'm home, with my unfinished novel on my desk, I am poised to add: a champagne poodle, a failed batch of bread--and sex. Try this exercise, and do it fast, without thinking. What would you add to your story?
Thanks to Kelly, and our workshop group, for six lively and fascinating sessions. Write on!