by Marjorie Brody
I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the alert for opportunities to sharpen my skills. I enjoy attending organized workshops and seminars, and although I share my new knowledge with colleagues when I return home, it’s not the same as if we all attend a workshop together—which can be pricey when you consider transportation, hotels and meals, as well as workshop fees. So, this year I hosted three private workshops at my home. I arranged for well established authors and writing instructors to fly into town and do a two-and-a-half day seminar for twenty of my colleagues. We had a blast. We learned, ate, laughed, ate, worked hard, and ate. We talk about our learnings and remind each other to implement our new-found insights long after the seminar ends. We even created a spin-off from the seminar Eric M. Witchey conducted which allowed us to extend our workshop experience.
If you ever get a chance to attend a workshop with Eric, I encourage you to do so. Eric has sold well over 100 short stories, a slew of non-fiction articles, and four novels. He consults with authors often and is a popular workshop presenter at the Willamette Writers Conference, Wordcrafters Conference, and the Short Story America Festival and Conference. Eric has a unique way of understanding story development and boosting productivity. You might want to read his article in Writers Digest, July 2005 on EDACE.
After several days with Eric, a group of us decided we wanted to use his strategies for developing stories. So, we started a group called the Story Starters. We’d pick a genre, a writing technique (e.g., amplifying setting through pov, person vs environment, indirect dialogue) and two emotions from bowls containing dozens. Occasionally, we pick the name of an item from another bowl (e.g., a crushed soda can, a smelly pillowcase, a squeezed lemon slice). Then in a twenty minute period, we’d write a story using Eric’s EDACE and all the elements we’ve randomly picked from the bowls. When the timer rings, we’d each read our story aloud. The only rule: It doesn’t matter if our work is less than stellar. We are practicing. Merely practicing—although what great practice it is. The more we utilize the process and implement our skills the more integrated they become.
The system the Story Starters use allows us to experiment with genres outside our comfort zones, move characters from one emotional state to another, and have one hell of a time. Amazing ourselves with our creativity—and our consumption of popcorn, sweets and coffee—we laugh and inspire and impact each other other with our stories. We’ve built a strong sense of collegiality and a built-in cheering section for our published endeavors. The Story Starters meet every other week and embark on this process twice in an evening.
At the rate of two story-starts (although many times we finish a completed story in 20 minutes), that’s 52 short story ideas a year. Some will be tossed away, some will be refined and submitted to journals, and others become the ideas for longer works.
We're having an awesome time practicing our craft.
What about you? What practice techniques do you use?
P.S. When I told Eric I was going to mention him in this blog, he offered to send my readers a longer .pdf version of his Writers Digest article on EDACE. (He's written several articles for Writers Digest and The Writer magazines). He also said if you had a specific question about some aspect of your writing, he could send you an article that may be helpful. He’s willing to do this if you contact him before November 13 and mention the Stiletto Gang. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Stories by Texas Authors Anthology and four volumes of the Short Story America Anthology. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. TWISTED is available in digital and print at http://tinyurl.com/cv15why or http://tinyurl.com/bqcgywl. Marjorie invites you to visit her at www.marjoriespages.com.