Workshops : Writing Immersion Weekend

Writing Immersion Weekend

October 14, 2011 - October 16, 2011


Building characters who are vivid, complex, and true to life is a challenge all writers must continually engage with throughout their writing careers. Whether you work in fiction, memoir, or a creative journalism, characterization is one of the deepest wells of narrative, and this workshop is designed to help you develop a set a of skills and questions that will aid you as you write your characters to life.

Before the first session, you'll receive a packet of reading material (short stories, articles, excerpts from longer works -- 30-50 pages, plus a list of suggested reading). This work includes terrific examples of ways writers introduce and develop their characters. Included in the packet will be several writing prompts, specific exercises intended to get you thinking about and working with characterization. You'll be prompted to write dialogue-only scenes, dialogue-free scenes, sense-enriched scenes -- all this before we even meet to start talking about the topic.

Why? Because, unless you explore this realm on your own, without suggestions or instruction, you're apt to miss the most important advantage of a craft approach, the "hands-on, puzzle-it-out" part. No matter where you're coming from as a writer, you know a lot about characters because you're one of them, yourself. Our characters are human beings (for the most part), and we've paid a lot of attention throughout our lives to how human beings think, act, speak, feel, and interact. By working through these exercises you'll likely develop a set of questions to bring with you to workshop, specific questions about how all that knowledge gets effectively translated to the page. And THAT's a great starting point for the weekend.

The schedule works like this. Friday we'll get together at 6pm in a comfortable private house in Taos. (It's a vacation rental, so it's expansive and equipped for people to have a good time.) I'll provide a light meal of soup and salad and we'll spend a little time getting to know each other. By 7:30 we'll get to work, and for an hour and a half we'll have a rapid-fire writing session, with super-short assignments alternating with slightly longer ones as we try to work out the kinks of the week and wake up our writing brains.  This is meant to be fun and invigorating, and should help us all overcome any inhibitions we might have about writing in the company of others. Then, at 9pm, we'll head off to rest up for the big day.

Saturday morning we'll regroup at 10am. (I'll be at the house by 9 with a pot of coffee brewing, so anyone who wants to drop by early is welcome to join me.) We'll start promptly with a quick warm-up writing exercise--getting our heads in the game--and will follow with more exercises intended to focus on specific elements of characterization. Before we talk theory, we want concrete examples in our own voices, and we'll make sure everyone has a chance to read one of their pieces if they wish. In this way, we'll look closely at the various ways that physical description, staging, gesture, and backstory lend richness and specificity to our characters.

We'll break at 1pm for lunch. There are lots of great places close by to find a sandwich, or you're welcome to bring your own and stick around -- and there's time for a nap or to settle in with a good book for a bit, if you're inclined that way. At 3pm we'll meet again, and we'll devote the rest of the afternoon to critique of each other's submitted work. You'll have had a chance to read this ahead of time, and I'll provide suggestions for how this process works best. Generally speaking, I'll sit back and listen -- but I'll be paying close attention to the places that show masterful characterization, and will comment on techniques we can all learn from. 

It's dinnertime from 5 to 7, and we'll have made a group decision before this about whether to go out as a group or to cook in and eat there. (Any individual participant who needs more personal time is of course free to step out.) When we've eaten and cleaned up, we'll spend the rest of the evening in discussion. I'll deliver a craft talk on character development, we'll talk about the assigned reading, we'll explore questions and clarify points and share suggestions for reading and cover any other issues that have arisen. At 9, we'll call it a day so we can go home and process the heady brew.

Sunday morning, 10am-noon, is reserved exclusively for work on dialogue. We'll do a couple of warm-up exercises and then will explore specific techniques through discussion and practice. At noon we'll wrap things up and head home with a good collection of writing starts, plenty of new ideas, and -- I do hope -- some new and positive connections.

If you're coming in for the workshop from out of town, you may want to consider staying at the house. There are two bedrooms, each available for $50/night, and you'll have the place to yourself from 9pm until 9 the next morning. Contact me for availability. There are also plenty of wonderful other places to stay in Taos, and I'm happy to make suggestions.

One more thing: I'm offering individual one-hour consults with workshop participants for a reduced rate. If you have a story or essay you'd like me to read and critique (up to 20 pages, please, submitted in advance), or if you'd like help developing a plan or approach to the next chapter in your writing life, I'm available to meet with you for $100.

    Additional Files:

  • Frequently_Asked_Questions1.pdf