Everything that’s wrong with your story, courtesy of Michael Swanwick.
The good news is that we have now met ten times. The bad news is that our last meeting was almost ten months ago! Now that we’ve finally met again, we are hoping to get back into the groove.
For our tenth meeting, we met at Susannah’s. Kim, Nicole, Bethany, and Jon were also in attendance. We started with dinner and a brief celebration of Bethany and Jon’s purchase of a new house and then quickly moved on to writing.
Our warm up exercises were to write an alphabetical list of advice (from “Always look both ways before crossing the street” to “Zebras do not make good pets”) and to describe each day of the week as a person. In between, we broke for a gorgeous literary-themed cake from The Bakery Nook.
The rest of the evening was spent writing a short story, set in a scene provided by Bethany and Jon. We had our choice of three levels of detail to get us started:
- A busy airport
- Baggage claim at 4:10am
- TSA officer sitting on side of baggage carousel, reading. Man in turban buying coffee. Woman with blue hair and a service dog, eating a bagel. A drowsy-looking Chinese man sitting on a bench holding sleeping twin toddlers. A large, strangely-shaped package on the baggage carousel. One flickering overhead light.
In addition, we used Rory’s Story cubes and added a new item to the mix every five minutes:
- A clock, with the hands at 4 o’clock
- A hand
- A rook/castle tower
- A lock
- A bridge
- A cell phone
We returned to Nicole’s for an outdoor dinner and a read-and-critique night on August 21st. In addition to Nicole, Susannah, Bethany, Jon, and Kim, we got to meet Nicole/Kim/Mike’s colleague, Michelle. Nicole read her most recent entry to the NYC Midnight writing contest. Susannah shared a set of haiku. Michelle had a chapter from a spooky story to share, which spawned a discussion about Centralia, PA. Jon read a portion of a story written from the perspective of a cat. Bethany had put together a journalistic account of a recent dog rescue she had Jon had effected. And Kim read both her own piece and the opening chapter of a children’s fantasy book that Mike is working on.
We next met on June 26th, at Kim and Mike’s, where we focused on dialogue for the evening. We did two exercises. The prompt for the first was that two people are in a car, they have a brief conversation, and then the driver drops the passenger off in front of a building. The second was a conversation between a cashier and a customer who briefly comes into a store, purchases something, and leaves. It was nice to do some actual writing during our meeting this time since the prior meeting had been mostly conversation about writing. In attendance were Kim, Mike, Jon, Bethany, Susannah, and Jenna.
After a few scheduling hiccups in March, Nicole hosted the next go-round on May 15th, and we had a nice-sized group with Jon, Bethany, Mike, Kim, Susannah, and Janet attending. We had a fun time reviewing the interim progress that had been made on our group writing exercise, and we also spent time discussing titles. Kim even brought a children’s book to read to us and had the title covered up so we could each provide a guess as to what the title might be after hearing it. It was aptly named “Here Comes The Garbage Barge!” and was illustrated in a very creative way, with photos of clay models and other materials.
We’ve been at this for a little over a year now. Our first meeting was on January 5th, 2014, and we had our sixth meeting on February 27th, so we are nearly maintaining a bi-monthly pace (with a holiday break worked in). When we met this most recent time, we began our planned live-writing exercise. Vicki, Jon, Bethany, Nicole, Kim (with her sister as our special guest), Mike, and Susannah attended—and brought along a bio for a character that could be dropped into a to-be-determined setting and plot. After reading our character profiles to the group, we used Rory’s Story Cubes to set the scene. We rolled a wooly mammoth, a wolf howling in front of a moon, an arrow, a chalk outline, an amoeba, and a bowl of rice. The wooly mammoth felt a bit restrictive until Bethany pointed out that we could always set things in a museum and not have to actually write about prehistoric times. Whew!
That idea seemed to turn on the collective light bulb, and we were off and running. We decided to set a death (at first we couldn’t decide whether to make it a murder or an accident) during a charity event at a small-sized, privately-owned museum. The characters we all sketched out in advance worked remarkably well for the story, and it was fascinating to see how the available characters dictated the plot once they were placed into logical roles. Nicole’s narcissistic socialite became the museum’s owner. Susannah’s peacenik became its curator. Vicki’s film star was the inspiration for having a charity gala, and Bethany’s character became the travel reporter covering the event. The intrepid but introverted boy that Jon created became the crime’s reluctant witness. And the pudding-loving 6-yr-old that Mike wrote even became the son of another character who had a young son.
Our original plan was to write the story that night, but we decided there was not enough time left to do it justice. Instead we wrote a plot synopsis, broke it into seven major sections, and divided the assignments amongst ourselves. Bethany set up a Google doc for us to collaborate in, and we all added our character sketches and are working on writing our parts for the next meeting.
Someone recently asked me what typically happens on these nights, and going over the ones we’ve done so far made me realize I had never recapped the last one. Because of the holidays, we haven’t met in a while, but we did meet in October at Kim and Mike’s apartment. In honor of Halloween being the next day, we came in costume. Our hosts were a young Carl and Ellie from Up, Jon arrived as an impressively accurate Mr. Tumnus with an amazingly-bedecked Beth-the-Kraken in tow, and I rounded things out as Hermione from her Prisoner of Azkaban days.
We finally tackled the Action topic which had been requested in the spring. We read examples of action passages from favorite books and analyzed what made the author’s style for writing action particularly effective.
Our next meeting will be later this month, where we will try a live-writing exercise. By the way, I just made that term up on the spot, but it looks like it’s actually a thing. Check out an example.
I’d like to propose Dialogue as a future topic. Here’s a good article to get you started on Writing Great Dialogue.