Last week at John C. Campbell Folk School, I taught a fast-paced, nuts and bolts course in novel writing. Our studio was in this idyllic setting with a mini-orchard out front but,for the most part the students were working too hard to be able to enjoy their surroundings during class time.
There were nine students with varying degrees of writing experience. Some had a novel in progress, some had nothing but an idea for a novel. But I suggested that they write all their assignments as parts of this putative novel. That way, by the end of the week, they might just have the beginning of a novel,
I would talk a bit about the various elements of a novel -- characters, setting, plot, dialogue -- and then ask these hard-working women to write a scene, incorporating the elements we'd been discussing. Right now. I'd give them twenty or thirty minutes and they were off, scribbling on paper or tapping away at their laptops. . .
A typical assignment was to write a scene with dialogue in which five people were in the scene and each should speak at least once, but most of the dialogue should be between just two people.
While they were writing, I'd sometimes step outside and take pictures . . .
And here's the thing -- they came up with some really good stuff -- just like that, on demand. And, if they learned nothing else, they learned that they could write whether they were in the mood or not. No need for special surroundings -- music, incense, lucky teddy bear. Just do it.
That synergy thing I've talked about before with my writing classes kicked in by Monday afternoon and rather than a bunch of individuals, we were old friends -- listening hard, trying to understand what each writer was attempting to do, and making suggestions to help her reach her goal. The level of critique was impressive and the level of laughter was amazing. We had such fun!
The stories and characters were all over the place --
-- a female FBI recruit (written by a former agent) struggles to make the grade;
-- a previously happy homemaker, unsettled by Women's Lib taking a job that plunges her into some unsavory business and murder;
-- a woman trying to save her family home encounters murder at a craft fair;
-- a Holocaust story set in Vienna;
-- a family story set in Istanbul;
-- a plot involving an art dealer and an art expert;
-- a transplant to the South , troubled by injustice, decides to right some wrongs;
-- the first women of what became the WACs and the struggles they endured for acceptance; --- a female reporter, sick of writing the Society Page, looks for the Big Story that will make her a real reporter.'
(These are very brief and incomplete descriptions as I don't feel I should share the unique 'hooks' that these writers have come up with. (There are some goodies.)
After an introductory meeting on Sunday night, we met from 9 to 12 each morning and from 1:30 to 4:30 each afternoon. They wrote and wrote and all too soon it was Thursday. On Thursday, the writing class had an hour to do readings. (All the other classes had a little exhibit before the closing ceremony on Friday afternoon, but as scribbled pages or even print out don't make a very inspiring exhibit, the writers read.)
They did really well. Afterwards, I heard many compliments on the level of the writing and the presentation. They were all audible! And got laughs, in the proper places and gasps or sighs or stunned silences in other proper places.
So here's to a great group of writers! Bonnie C., Mona, Maggie, Gloria, Jeanne, Bonnie R., Anita, Willetta, and Cezanne -- take a bow!
I'm already looking forward to next year when I'll be doing the same class in early June!