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Tiah Beautement

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Lauri Kubuitsile’s Ten Random Tips for Running a Writing Workshop

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Short Story Day Africa is on a mission to make running a writing workshop as painless as possible. There are so many different approaches.  Cristy Zinn shared her thoughts last week.  Now Lauri Kubuitsile has picked up her pen to give her tips. If either writer’s post inspires you to run a workshop in honour of Short Story Day 2014, please do get in touch with Tiah Beautement: kids AT shortstorydayafrica DOT org Or tweet at her: @ms_tiahmarie or message via FB.


Lauri Kubuitsile’s Ten Random Tips for Running a Writing Workshop

1. You can’t do everything, so don’t even try. Pick something. Examples of things to focus on might be show don’t tell, significant detail, characterisation, dialogue, tension, or plotting.

2. First read some examples of what you want to focus on – both good and bad examples if you can find them. Let the participants hear how good and bad writing sounds. Allow them to discuss the passages. Guide them to see what you want to show them with the passages.

3. Writing and sharing writing can be difficult for people. It is good to get people to open up and become comfortable with each other. I usually use a story ice-breaker. An example is dividing the group into three: A, B, and C. Have the As write two lines which are the beginning of a story. The B’s write two lines which are the middle, and the Cs write two lines that are the end of a story. Now you randomly pick an A, B, and a C and they read their lines one after another to make a story, often to hilarious effect.

4. A good characterisation exercise is to come with a form for them to fill in about a character. You can find such forms online or you can make your own. On the form should be things such as their character’s name, age, looks, political opinion, general mood, feeling on various things (ie. vegetarianism, religion, space travel, love at first sight, etc). The more detailed the better. Let them think about the character they want to create, then give them time to fill the form. Then give them a scene. I like to include something with tension or a moral quandary. Maybe they come upon a man beating up his wife or they just spotted the chief of the village stealing tomato sauce at the shop. Then you ask two participants to sit together and write a scene, only in dialogue, between the two characters they have created who have just come upon this situation. It helps build characterisation and dialogue skills. Have partners perform the scene in front of the class and discuss.

5. If you have a few sessions with the group, you might give them a short writing assignment that they bring finished to the next session. But again try to focus on a certain skill with the assignment.

6. Tension is the glue of a story, it keeps the reader interested. Tension is created by developing questions in the reader’s mind. A good exercise for tension is to write out questions on bits of paper and put them in a bowl. Each participant should choose a question. They should write a scene that makes the reader ask themselves that question in their mind. Questions might be: what is he doing?, how will she get out of that?, who is this person?.

7. It’s good to have some writing prompts if you are going to have them write during the workshop. You might give them a set first line that cannot be changed in any way. Another good prompt is a photo. I’ve also cut out headlines from the newspaper and each person picks one from the bowl and they must use that as a prompt.

8. I think plotting often gets short-changed in writing workshops and yet a good story is a good plot. One exercise that I’ve used is I show them a sort of quick line graph showing how the tension should build until the climax, very near the end, and then the tail end where things are sorted out. Then I have them write six plot points for their story, just a few lines or two for each, and arrange them to build the tension and then the climax and then the resolution. Participants present and the class discuss.

9. To work on show don’t tell, I often give them a line, i.e. he is a wise man, and then ask them to write a scene showing this. Or- the house is haunted. The woman is mean. Everyone writes on the same sentence. Alternatively, you can also pass out various sentences such as these, each participant getting a different one that they keep secret. Then after they read out what they’ve written, the group can say what they think the original sentence was.

10. Since I’m quite a practical person, someone who doesn’t like to waste any bit of writing if I can, at the end of my workshops I like to give them an upcoming short story contest that they might like to enter. I encourage them to use the bits of writing they created during the workshop to work on a story for the upcoming contest. I think this is motivating and encourages them to submit their writing if that’s what they’d like to do.

Writing workshops can be a lot of fun and at least for me, a place where I learn new things too.  Hope you enjoy running yours!!

LauriKubuitsile- low resLauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer living in Mahalapye, Botswana. She has numerous published books (in South Africa, Botswana and overseas) and many short stories published around the world.  Five of her books for children are prescribed reading in schools in Botswana and South Africa. She has won or been shortlisted for numerous prizes among them she was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize, and twice won The Golden Baobab Prize for children’s stories. Her most recent books are a collection of short stories, In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories (Hands-On Books) and the sequel to her YA book, Signed, Hopelessly in Love (Tafelberg), titled  Signed, The Secret Keeper published by Diamond Educational Publishers in Botswana.

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