So I had my first session of the writing workshop today. Despite my anxieties, I’m happy that I signed up for it. After this first session, I really have the feeling that it will improve my writing and my habits.
The basic idea of the workshop is actually very simple, and is based on the concept of the persona narrator. The persona narrator is the voice you create to tell the story, and it is important to note that this voice is not the same as your own voice. I think this is a huge weakness of mine. Even when I intend to write about characters who should be nothing like me, they often still end up sounding like me, whining and bitching about how difficult life is. Trust me, a world where everyone sounds like me (or like anyone else for that matter) is not a world you want to read about.
So how does it work? Simple. We read a fictional piece of a poem, and discuss briefly the characteristics of the narrator. For example, how does he sound like? Does he sound confident? Lonely? Afraid? How does he look upon the world, and in what way does he tell his story? After acquiring a general idea of the narrator, our exercise is then to try to emulate the narrator’s voice in a piece of writing of our own. The week after, we will then critique each other’s work, mainly focusing on whether we are able to capture the same kind of voice in our exercises: what worked and what didn’t work. When it’s your turn to be critiqued, you are not allowed to say anything, because the writer will always have the tendency to get defensive and “explain” too much. By merely listening to and focusing on the comments, you will find out about how others experience your writing. In the end, you learn a great deal about writing in different voices and different characters.
Today, we read an excerpt of “Nilda” by Junot Diaz, which was published in “Best American Short Stories 2000.” The narrator is someone who is confident. He tells the story in a rather indirect way, i.e. he writes about Nilda, but Nilda is actually not the main character. Instead, she is a reflection of the world he inhabits. The story is actually more about his brother (though it doesn’t become apparent in the excerpt, but only later on), but he doesn’t write directly about him.
My plan is now is to post my exercises on my blog every week after they have been critiqued, hopefully with some useful comments as well. These exercises may also prove to be useful as writing challenges in the future, for anyone who are looking to practice their writing skills.