This Saturday, the Workshop Express will be going on a longer journey than usual. I’ll be heading to Dublin, a two-hour journey from where I live, to give the next in my series of creative writing workshops at the National Council for the Blind. I’ve been working with this group for quite a while now, and in recent workshops, they’ve been asking me to help them structure a story from start to finish.
This isn’t the way I usually work. Usually I give a prompt and the story takes off from there. In other words, it’s a more instinctive process. But I’d like to help these people get over the line and complete a story. They’ve been loyal attendees and it’s only fair that I give them what they want. I sought the advice of writers in the Facebook writers’ group that I run and got some brilliant suggestions. This helped me put together a plan for this Saturday’s workshop and I’m hugely grateful to them for that.
Here’s a flavour of how the plan will be put into action on the day.
Getting the Story Started
The other challenge on the day is that as well as the loyal followers, there’ll be a few people who haven’t done workshops with me before. To bond everyone and bring them to the same level, we’ll do a few spoken-word exercises to start off with. The Chinese Whispers exercise is always popular. I’ll start a story with a sentence, the next person will add a sentence and so on until everyone has contributed. This will demonstrate the importance of getting on with telling a story.
We will then look at different ways of plotting stories. One of the resources the Facebook Writers pointed to was an article outlining the Three Act Structure, the classic beginning-middle-end structure that has been used since the time of the Ancient Greeks. We’ll then brainstorm to come up with events they could write about. The story they write will be a slice-of-life tale, revealing the magic that can be found in the most ordinary lives.
Gathering the Details
Once they’ve identified the story they want to write, they’ll answer a 5 Ws questionnaire, that will help them to decide what they will include in the story. They will decide what happened, why it happened, where and when it happened and who was involved. To flesh out the story, we’ll do character and setting exercises to help them describe their characters, and the places where the story happens, more vividly.
After all that has been done, they will write as much of the story as time allows and get feedback on what they have written so far.
How do you handle the structuring of stories, as a writer and as a creative writing tutor?