“*Gasp* What’s that?”
“It looks like a bird!”
“No, it’s a plane!”
“Wait, it’s a collection of creative writing workshop plans!”
“…oh. Well. That’s a let down.”
“But look over there, it’s Superman!”
No, hell if I know.
Hello again! Last time I put one of these up I said that they would be sporadic in nature, that these plans were designed for group workshops (although I’d provide alternatives where I could think of to do exercises solo), that it’d be a critical reflection of what went right and wrong and some other stuff. For the probably important pre-amble, take a look at that link for all the glossy details. That said, there’s two things that should be seen again, plus one new detail, so here they are.
The aim of these workshops is to allow people of any skill level and interest to write creatively for fun. Whatever aim you have going in to wanting to write creatively, well, these workshops should cover that general ground.
Given that I had had a couple of attempts at delivering workshops by this point, my timing was vastly improved. Perfect? Probably not, but that’s okay. What I will say though is that a minute here or there I won’t comment on, but if you do want to see thoughts on losing/making up for time, I make mention of it a few times in the previous collection. I suppose that’s both my way of saying “I don’t want to talk about that aspect any more unless I have to” and I got better, nar nar ne nar nar.
Note: Any time marking (in minutes) with [Group] before it means it’s specifically for structure in a group environment and can be safely ignored if working on it solo.
Let’s do this thang.
– WORKSHOP 3 – (Weird) Science
0.00 – .15 : Arrival and icebreaker exercise; defining science fiction. Everyone has a minute to write down their own definition for Science Fiction followed by a discussion of these and those from actual SF writers. The idea here isn’t to imply a correct answer, but that due to the number and variety of the definitions, it allows the genre to be quite wide. Reminder: Make mention of the ‘scale’ of SF, from hard (makes scientific sense) to soft (anything goes) and somewhere in between (made up for the fiction, but makes sense in-universe).
[Notes – It’s really very important to make sure that when you’re going to be writing in one genre that you pin down what that genre actually is. SF is generally quite the broad church, so making sure everyone was clued into that was naturally so important for getting the best out of the workshop. Besides, throwing in some definitions from SF authors probably didn’t hurt with emphasising that point too. Those who were at the workshop enjoyed this little discussion before we got going, its easing in definitely having the desired effect (yay)! When I initially wrote this it was with the group tag, but whilst the discussion element will be missed doing this solo, looking around and reading different thoughts is a good substitute.]
.15 – .35 : Alternate Thinking, Main Task 1. A largely open task split into three quick-fire parts. Five minutes will be spent on each. How they’re written is likely guided by the task, but ultimately up to the individual, be it reading like a short-story, a descriptive synopsis, etc. The focus is on simply getting the idea down.
1) Something Different – Write about the world without a certain person or piece of technology. The emphasis here is on difference and the scale is up to the writer – would they be living in a different location, how would that affect them? What would we do without toasters? The age-old “What if Hitler didn’t come to power?” etc.
2) Something Alien – Describe an alien life-form, but explaining why this life-form is as it is using ‘hard SF’ rules; if it has four legs, why does it need them? What habitat does it live in or come from? Reminder: All life-forms come in different shapes, sizes and intelligence on this planet, let alone any other! (Also worth noting, we don’t even know of every species on this planet!)
3) Something Shiny – Using ‘soft SF’, come up with a new piece of technology/equipment. What is its function? Is it expensive, cheap, easy to move, life-changing, life-aiding? As an added challenge, try and apply hard SF rules and think of the implications of this development, or perhaps what was required to get there.
[Notes – So, why these? Good question. If SF is a broad church, it helps if you dip into some of these different areas and why not these scattered thoughts? Again, I try and design these workshops to be enjoyable but in-keeping with theme, so I tried to think of some of the most common SF areas and pitch something very brief around them; it was a case of intentional throwing everything at the wall and seeing how much stuck for who. I was not intending everyone to find every one of these short tasks easy, but by keeping it brisk it allowed for some quick thoughts down, brief descriptions and a bit of ungrounded writing. This was the “free your mind” moment of the workshop and I hate myself a little for quoting that, but hopefully you get the point. It was to set-up the main writing task, but it had an unintended impact which I’ll note later.]
[Group] .35 – .45 : Sharing. A chance for everyone to share one of the things they wrote about.
.45 – 1.00 : Main task 2a, character, setting and vehicle. Participants will be tasked with coming up with a short story that will be based on a journey or some sort of exploration and will come with the strict requirement of including a vehicle in some sort of capacity. How each person goes about adhering to the ‘hardness’ of SF is entirely up-to-them, as well as the tone and style.
Some context though; a lot of sci-fi stories have a vehicle as a core element to the extent that the vehicle is often treated as a character itself (which is taken to logical extremes with organic and/or sentient craft) and serve to highlight either a reaction to that universe, an extension of characteristics for the owner or act as a sort of emotional touch-stone for those using it (by providing human characteristics).
Besides that, there’s the obvious aspect that you need a vehicle to move and exploration is a core tenet of SF stories so the two go hand-in-hand. Additionally, sometimes the vehicle is fused with the catalyst for the plot (eg. Time travel). The most famous vehicles are often symbolic for the story/franchise they represent and will tend to be widely recognised in wider culture, even by those who haven’t actually consumed the source material.
And finally, to quote Doc Brown, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a car into a time machine, why not do it with some style?”
Examples include, but are by no means limited to:
The DeLorean – Back to the Future, any Enterprise – Star Trek, the Millennium Falcon – Star Wars (and literally any other craft from it, really), Serenity – Firefly, Red Dwarf and Starbug –Red Dwarf, the Planet Express ship – Futurama, sand worms – Dune, the Nautilus – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, V8-Interceptor – Mad Max, the T.A.R.D.I.S. – Doctor Who, USS Discovery – 2001: A Space Odyssey, any of the Thunderbirds.
Before the break participants will have to come up with a main character(s), a setting and a vehicle. There isn’t supposed to be a focus on the plot at the time, but obviously as these components come together a plot is likely to be formed. Alternatively, there’s already a plot in mind and the components are formed as a result of this.
[Group] 1.00 – 1.10 : Break.
.10 – .35 : Main task 2b, writing. [Notes – I’ll explain this one here as to avoid extending that wall of text and instead for making a new one here. There’s quite a bit to break down, both in reasoning and execution. Why a vehicle then? Well as I mention in the script for the plan, SF vehicles tend to be characters in their own right, so it’s an interesting challenge of having to write about an innate object (usually…) but more importantly, it opens up the setting because it could be anywhere, any when. Sometimes creativity is bolstered by restriction, that you have to try and find a way around a problem and in that solution you find creativity to make your way around, but complete openness can sometimes be too open and leave nothing to work with.
At least having a root, a vehicle in this case, helps keep it somewhere between the two, something someone in the workshop actually mentioned as a benefit, so a biscuity reward there for me, I think! So by making sure that the setting, main character and vehicle are determined as a separate entity to the extended writing makes sure that whoever is writing has a chance to develop a world, catch their breath, and then just tell a story within it.
This is where that comment from the previous task comes into play. So during the sharing of stories, all of which were really interesting and went in directions I wasn’t expecting, which is exactly what you want, two people said that a world they had created in the short exercises they went back to to explore in this extended writing. As such, they already had a setting and a vehicle and main character were easily derived from there.
I had never considered it a possibility, despite me saying in all my workshops that if people want to continue with one thing, be it a requirement or optional, that in this particular workshop it could be worked that way. I am absolutely happy that people got more out of that quick set than I anticipated and that they bought into the workshop which no doubt helped with a confident coming into this main task. Otherwise it was just open prose, but with a more specific aim in mind.]
.35 – .40 : Mission statement. Participants will be asked to come up with a ‘mission statement’ for their story. A lot of SF stories, particularly serial ones, tend to have a short introduction to the story/universe. Also known as, “The first line of a blurb,” but mission statement sounds cooler. [Notes – Hmmm. Firstly, the three opening narrations used. Secondly, HMMM. The aim here was to lend the writing some of that sci-fi style, but in practice it was a little unwieldy. People were still writing and I don’t blame them, if you’ve really got stuck into something you either stop or carry on, not stopping to do something related, but could just be used to carry on instead. If I were to deliver this workshop again I would absolutely not run this part. Granted it’s only five minutes, but I’d rather not have disrupted writing time for something that felt fairly unnecessary. A nice idea, but maybe for another time.]
[Group] .40 – 2.00 : Main sharing. An opportunity for people to share their longer pieces of work. For those who do not wish to do so, they will be encouraged to share their mission statement or one of the earlier ideas from the first task.
Overall notes – Phew! There’s a lot in this one. Most of it I was happy with, the mission statement, as mentioned above, being the lone exception really. More importantly though is that everyone had fun; a few people were won over by SF too! Perhaps a bit too zealous with how much I wanted to do, it ultimately worked well and kept a good, brisk pace about it.
Were I to do it again, which I very much would like to, I’d certainly consider adding to the quick exercises at the beginning a general ‘World building’ task. Given how much set-up was taken from them for the main exercise, having a specific one might help further. It probably also took me around 2 hours to make this workshop. Most of that was fitting in the extra details, like finding quotes and putting in examples. I think Fury Road earlier in the year had a big influence on the main writing exercise, whilst the first exercises came to me quite quickly.
– WORKSHOP 4 – Small Stories
[Group] 0.00 – .10 : Arrival/Icebreaker. Participants will be given a few seconds to think of their favourite knick-knack and how/why they have it.
.10 – .25 : Exercise 1a: Building the list. The emphasis in this workshop is to build a low-key story, one that’s a fairly intimate look at one person and their behaviour, but has minimal impact on anyone else.
We all have possessions of various sizes and monetary value that are important to us for whatever reason. Channelling this idea…
Building the list:
Participants will be asked to come up with three lists that will be added to a large piece of paper. The lists will be: possessions (including furniture, knick-knacks, stationary etc.), events (including ‘firsts’, moving out, family bereavement, seeing an old friend etc., but excluding own birth and death) and first names. Once the lists are complete, participants will be asked to match up one from each (eg. Paper shredder, marriage, Phoebe).
[Notes – Getting the obvious out of the way, this is a collaborative exercise, but like any that involves list making do have a go at making a list yourself and maybe ask for some input from people around you. At the bottom with the overview notes, I’ll include the list that was made during this workshop too. As for the list itself, I was originally going to keep it to knick-knacks, but felt that that’s unnecessarily restricting when you can get the same material with any item really.]
.25 – .45 : Exercise 1b: Follow-up. With their combination picked, participants will have to write a short piece as the person they picked a name for, explaining why the item is connected to that event and any emotions they have about that (e.g. If they received a knick-knack as a present for a birthday, did they like it, was it a joke they found funny, etc.). There are no specific requirements here, it is up to the participant how they wish to approach. It is not important that this portion of writing is finished, but there should be a clear emotive connection established. It’ll probably be handy later…
[Notes – The purpose of having a clear emotional connection or imprint between character and item is important for the follow-up, but it also served as a means of focusing in the writing. Otherwise, like the list making, a simple exercise that had people both make a character and make us sympathetic to whatever it is they’re connected to.]
[Group] .45 – .55 : Sharing. A chance for anyone to share what they’ve done, as well as provide feedback.
[Group] .55 – 1.05 : Break.
1.05 – .35 : Exercise 2. Participants at this point will have a chance to go two ways based off their previous piece of writing. They can opt to write about:
1 – The character no longer has the item in their possession. It is up to the participant to explain why this is and their character’s reaction to this as if explaining it to another person (of their choosing). The form is up to the participant.
2 – They can pick a new combination from the list.
(3 – The secret option. A combination of the two above. Can it be done? Who knows?!)
[Notes – The making sure of an emotional connection then was important for seeing what would happen if you split it, if that was chosen of course. I think it’s naturally quite intriguing to see what happens to a character after a change of state, something you may not necessarily have time to do in smaller, one-off workshops where you tend to see just a scene in that character’s existence instead. The extended time for writing allowed chance to take stock of what was done before and then naturally move it forward. It’s also just nice to have one, unbroken task and the paper in front of you. Worth noting that it only occurred to me during the workshop that there was no reason why someone couldn’t have simply picked a new item and event with their previous character. So if you’re looking for additional options, there’s one!
Also worth noting that it was asked when this part could be set, namely if they could lose the item and then have it returned to them (essentially, writing backwards but still telling it chronologically). Again, not something that I thought of but definitely a cool idea that might be worth recommending or pointing out as an available option.]
[Group] .35 – 1.55 : Sharing. Participants can share any piece of writing they’ve done in the workshop. Feedback, too. [Notes – Worth remembering that longer periods of writing require longer sharing.
[Group] 1.55 – 2.00 : Farewells.
Overall notes – When I was designing this workshop I was aware of two things. The first was that it was going to be the last before before Christmas and I wanted to work that in in some way. With my general loathing of “Christmas specials!” I wanted it to be indirect, so I opted for looking at gift giving, a big aspect of this general holiday period, which neatly tied into my second thought of wanting to keep this a fairly simple workshop. After the Music Evokes and Weird Science ones, I wanted to bring things back down to normalcy, keep it small-scale. I often find the most interesting stories are not the expansive ones, but the quiet, intimate looks that get very character heavy.
Working through it I wanted to also mirror my original workshop and the one from the beginning of the year. It was then a conscious decision to have list making leading directly into building a character again. At any rate, it’s quite fun to just be let loose and be told you have a ton of time to just write, with a few guiding points here and there. It was also my quickest workshop to make, somewhere in the region of 45 minutes. Simplicity can work wonders sometimes.
Overall overall – These two workshops were a real sign of confidence for me. There was a refinement to them, their timings (both sticking to them and knowing when to be loose and to allow a little and where to take back some). It certainly helps that not too long after the Weird Science workshop was first made I ended up making a special workshop on how to make creative writing workshops, although whether or not you can say “Let them write for an hour” is a result of carefully plotting how to make exercises and put them in a neat structure is up for debate! Anyhow, I’m not sure when I’ll next be leading some workshops, so until next time, too-da-loo!