Tag Archives: writing workshop

Lesson Two: Life Is in the Details

Tree Frog?

In this week’s Teen Writing Class, we talked about using vivid details to bring our stories to life. The scene below was extended from a couple of sentences to a descriptive little section complete with figurative language, inner dialogue, secondary characters, and sensory details. If you want to read the entire lesson, click HERE. Otherwise, hope you enjoy this scene that could be part of a longer young adult story or novel.

DISSECTING DAY

I loiter in the hallway outside Room 15, slipping through the doorway at the last possible second when the bell rings. The sharp chemical stench of formaldehyde hangs heavy in the room, inescapable. When I try breathing through my nose, I can taste the smell on the tip of my tongue. Dissecting day.

‘Larrisa Boucher! Put that knife down before someone gets hurt!’ From her perch behind the desk, Ms. Cameron screeches at a five-foot ten inch basketball player pretending to threaten her teammate, Brandi Ellerby, with the silver dissecting tool. The Lady Hawks goofing off at the corner station snicker and shuffle in a loose clump of sharp elbows, hooded sweatshirts, Amazonian legs. I shoot them a look, eyes narrowed. Mutants.

A feel a nudge at my elbow. ‘Are you okay?’ Angela Greer whispers, breath minty from her gum. ‘You look kinda pale.’ Her long, orange hair brushes my elbow.

Shaking my head, I say, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’

Angela leans closer. ‘You have to. If you don’t bring up your grade in Biology, you won’t be allowed to go to drama camp with me this summer.’

‘I know, I know!’ Holding my breath, I glance down.

There it is. The frog.

Reaching out, I slide a tentative finger along its back. The skin is cold and slimy and weirdly stiff. Not like a real frog. Nothing like.

I remember when I was a kid how my cousin and I would walk down to the stream on summer mornings and catch them–big, green croakers hiding close to the muddy bottom among the cattails. We’d plunge our hands into the cool water and grab one by his leg. They were slimy then, too, but in a live way, wiggly. This frog is dead. And I have to cut him open. It isn’t fair, I think, stomach hollow and queasy. Why do animals have to suffer for us to have this stupid biology class, anyway?

Writing With The Teen

The Teen artwork

Inspired by writers Bill Roorbach and Dave Gessner who publish a writerly blog called Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour, I’ve decided to “give something back” as they suggested in a post entitled Bad Advice Wednesdays: Do Something For Someone Else (30 Ideas for Writers).

From the post, which I highly recommend you read, is the following:

What I’m proposing today is forgetting about our own careers (or lack) and thinking about what we can do for others, what we can do to make the world a more hospitable place for art, and for artists, which is to say for writing and writers. Doing for others may be your key to success, and is certainly the key to happiness. Herewith, 30 suggestions for writers. Karma, anyone?

This past fall, I drove the Teen and three friends once a week to Portland, Maine to attend a teen writing workshop at The Telling Room. This place is awesome! A non-profit organization dedicated to mentoring young people as they learn to express themselves through story–oral storytelling, cartooning, poetry, fiction, personal narrative, new media, film, etc., The Telling Room provides a cozy space on Portland’s waterfront, guest teachers, and a wonderful staff both paid and volunteer.

The girls were attending a writing/cartooning class once a week. Driving to Portland and back after school, on a weeknight, was tiring for all of us, though. I kept thinking, “I wish we had writing workshops offered close to home.”

Well, when you want something to happen, often the solution is to do it yourself. I dredged up all my old high-school English teacher training and created a syllabus for a five-week teen writing workshop. I’m calling it Dreaming On Paper. Retro, perhaps, since most of us writers use computers now. However, I decided the focus of the class will be the keeping of a daily writing journal . . . paper and pen. Basic. Portable. Inexpensive. Not intimidating. The idea is to take a set amount of time, start your timer, and write until the alarm goes off. Writing with intention but freedom to let your mind stray, hopping from topic to topic, recording even the strangest images and connections that pop up from who-knows-where in the subconscious.

Natalie Goldberg in WRITING DOWN THE BONES describes the process in detail, and my hope is that teenage writers will find timed journal entries both fun and productive–a treasure trove of ideas for future writing projects.

The Dreaming On Paper writing workshop syllabus can be viewed by clicking here. Feel free to use it. Offer a writing workshop in your hometown. Follow the instructions to start your own writing journal/journey. Use your imagination.

When the workshop actually starts in March, I will be posting about it here, sharing tips and stories and maybe some segments from our notebooks (with permission of the authors, of course). My hope is that teens in my community will be inspired to put their dreams, observations, and ideas onto paper, discover the joy that writing brings (along with some frustration, because, let’s face it, writing isn’t always easy!), and find a micro-community of other young writers with whom they can share their interest, craft, and passion for the written word. While my Reiki instructor friend, Laura, explains that there is a difference between “expression” and “communication” (more on this topic at a later date, plus a link to her new blog!), here we can combine the concepts. . . expressing on paper in a private journal, rewriting for clarity and meaning, and then communicating to others. This is how it works. This is writing.

It’s so fabulous!