Brando Skyhorse brought cookies, symbols of a generous spirit.
I brought two journals, two pens and two ink refills, symbols of a nervous spirit.
All of us were a bit nervous at this first session of Brando Skyhorse's writing workshop, so Brando suggested we take the edge off by introducing ourselves with the the infamous, "Two Truths/One Lie" ice-breaker which revealed the impressive creativity permeating the room. "My parents were elephant trainers in India," said one participant [a truth]; "I won a National Whistling Contest when I was 13," said another [a lie]; and "I have four children," said yet another who clearly appeared younger than 30 [a truth; two of them were stepchildren].
My "Two Truths/One Lie":
- I was detained on Capitol Hill during the Second Bush Inaugural with about a dozen Mary Knoll sisters for kneeling down to pray as Bush took the oath of office.
- I divorced the love of my life, Dennis, finally weary of participating in a polyamorous relationship.
- I didn't make the cut to be an agent at the FBI Academy because I'm blind in one eye and could not shoot straight.
Brando: "Oh, that's easy. You were never in training to be an FBI agent." Everyone agreed. They were wrong. Brando said, "I think when we heard the word, 'polyamorous' we just didn't want to go there."
Following the ice-breaker, Brando introduced his workshop structure which would include in-class writing exercises as well as "workshopping" pieces submitted by participants. He then immediately launched into what he called the "building blocks of non-fiction: scenes." Every scene should include:
- DIALOGUE -- that deepens understand of characters and advances the plot
- SPECIFIC INTIMATE DETAILS -- about yourself, your surroundings, the people you are writing about; details the reader would not be able to discern, i.e., "He was toxic."
- INNER POINT OF VIEW -- what are you thinking, feeling, processing?
- DEFINITE STARTING AND STOPPING POINT
WRITING EXERCISE #1: Write a Craig's List ad or classified for a missing emotion. I wrote a classified for the emotion of gratitude missing in my life.
Brando then moved to the "building blocks of a story" which he acknowledged lifting from Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
- ACTION -- start with a "hook", startling fact or unusual image
- BACKGROUND -- include facts that deepen our understanding of characters
- DEVELOPMENT -- lay our your arguments, move the reader forward
- CONFLICT -- bring all the threads together (usually involves a twist)
- END -- What happens to your characters after the climax?
WRITING EXERCISE #2: Keeping in mind the above building blocks, write about a trip to the dentist. Needless to say, I wrote out "Crowning Achievement" -- the story of my icy trip to the dentist 10 days ago, adding more details and smoothing out the tempo.
HOMEWORK: Create a MEMORY INDEX. Without overthinking, assign a person, place or thing (specifically connected to you) to each letter of the alphabet and then write a paragraph about each of those 26 words. Brando's example: "The letter D . . . for me that's triggers Depeche Mode, my favorite band growing up." For Sharon . . .
- A: Ashes
- B: Barrette
- C: Cicada
- D: Dog
- E: Eye
- F: Freezer
- G: Girls
- H: History
- [to be continued . . .]