Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tator Tots, Technique, and Inspiration

As a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group (GLVWG for short), I have the opportunity to gather with writing colleagues on a monthly basis for workshops.  On February 23, 2008, I attended a workshop entitled "Tator Tots, Technique, and Inspiration" presented by Ann Russek.  

"If you made it through elementary, middle, and high school, you have enough stories to last you a lifetime," Ann told us.  

Below are a few exercises conducted that day.  Each one played an integral part in the development of CROSS.  Sit down with your Writer's Notebook and try them out for yourself!

Exercise #1:  Going from Known to Unknown
1.  Create a brainstorming web with a grade from your school years in the center.  
2.  Extend the web with details you remember from that year.
3.  Continue extending the initial "sprouts" by delving deeper into that memory.

Here's an example of a chain of though extending from a web I created for "fifth-grade."

5th grade--Rope--Gym class--220 yd. dash--Rich P.

4.  To transition from known to unknown, take one of the items or names from the end of a sprout to begin a whole new web where you will delve deeper into that subject.  In my example, I took Rich P. and placed that name in the center of another web.

This allows you to dig into the unknown to find possible characters for stories you may initially have overlooked.  I used this method in CROSS to create the characters of Joe Riaz and Kim Etter.

Exercise #2:  Studying setting
1.  Imagine a setting from your school days.  Cafeteria is often a popular choice.  Instead of discussing trivial elements like the tables, chairs, lines, etc., try to dig deep to memories from your time in that setting.  Free write for five or ten minutes about that setting and your place in it.  

This exercise created the lunchroom scene in CROSS when Drew self-destructs from paranoia, fearing his best friend Jackson will crush his beloved chocolate-glazed miniature donuts.

Exercise #3:  Place your characters in extraordinary situations
1.  Brainstorm a list of 10-20 people (living or dead) you don't know but would like to know.
2.  Brainstorm a list of 5-10 names from your childhood.
3.  Circle one name on each list.
4.  Free write a scene in which these two people meet in a mini-mart.

This exercise allows you to discover qualities in real people you can transfer into your own characters.  It also aids in dialogue development for character interaction.

I really needed to play around with this kind exercise to develop Ryan's character in the novel.

What stories from school are hiding in your mind?  If you're brave and willing enough, feel free to post some of your results here.  Have fun!

"Live, Learn, Teach"

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