What Happens in a Workshop, Anyway?
This weekend, we ran our first workshop at Quail Ridge Books. In a corner on the second floor, tucked among the travel guides and sports books, we spent twelve hours over the course of three days taking a breakneck tour through the world of craft and workshop.
So what happens at a Redbud workshop? Our six-week offerings are going to look a little different, since this was a three-day intensive. But all of our classes will combine the same melange of craft activities and feedback activities.
We started out on Friday with a few warm-up exercises, including a list of places where you can get inspiration as a writer and an activity where we shared the openings of our favorite books and talked about what promises they made to their readers (tip: learn to read critically if you want to be a writer!). We then jumped right in to an afternoon of mini-craft lessons, covering four key topics: setting, character, dialogue, and plot. I gave one carefully chosen piece of advice about each topic, then gave writing prompts that helped the students experiment with that advice. For example, for the character lesson, I asked students to:
Imagine your character emptying his or her purse or backpack. Tell us about the objects he or she takes out. What do these objects tell us about the character? Can you leave out any information, the omission of which will tell us something about the character? The purpose of this exercise was to encourage students to think about how the physical objects that a person surrounds themselves with can tell us so much about their character.
Think of someone you know in real life and dislike. Write a paragraph from that person’s POV. The purpose of this exercise was to a. force students to think about how to write convincing characters who are unlike them and b. think about how, as fiction writers, we should strive to understand the perspectives of our antagonists/villains as well as our protagonists, so that they come off as well-rounded people rather than caricatures.
At the end of the day, we were supposed to have some time to free-write, but we actually ran out of time because everyone had so much to say! Instead, we voted on which craft element we would dive into on Saturday. The class chose plot (an element that bedevils many fiction writers at some point!) and we all went home to rest before coming back in for day 2.
Saturday, we all came back rested and ready to dive into plot. We talked about how to structure plots; how to structure cohesive plots; how to consider the crises and complications that can drive forward a narrative; the myriad incidents that can happen to your characters; and how to use line-level tension to drive your narrative forward. Many students had novel ideas already in mind, so we talked about ways to get those stories started.
Sunday, our final day, we dove into the world of workshop. For those of you who haven’t been in a workshop before, this MFA model involves a group of writers dissecting each other’s work, one at a time. Every student had uploaded a chapter or scene to a Google Drive folder that morning, and we spent the first part of class talking about workshop protocol and reading each other’s work. Then, we jumped into critique! Something I love about workshop is how it gives writers the opportunity to convert their knowledge of craft into practical advice for how to improve stories, and it was great to see all the lessons from the first two days of class come back into play as we discussed these pieces.
After an afternoon of talking about fiction, we had time for a few minutes of goal-setting, and then class was over. As is Redbud’s tradition, we all went out for a drink to have the chance to chat and get to know each other outside of the workshop setting—and to celebrate all our hard work.
So there you have it! That’s what you can expect from a Redbud course! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.