Leading a Writing Group - Session 2

The prompt for today was dialogue. The story could be anything the kids wanted, it just had to include dialogue, or people talking. Some stories are all dialogue, some stories have no dialogue, most fiction writing is a mix. No matter what kind of writing you do, it's good to play with dialogue.


I find these types of writing exercises interesting. I usually have no idea what I'm going to do. If I do have an idea about what I'm going to do it always comes out completely different, nothing like I had imagined.

We talked about dialogue a little bit. I went over the idea of interstitial sentences because I thought Lexi, the 14 year old, would be interested in that. An interstitial sentence is when there is one sentence that starts with someone talking, then in the middle there's some description, and then the person is talking again. For instance, if a woman is standing at the fridge it might be like this: "John! I thought you said you were going to," she turned and gave him a cold stare, like a woman on the brink, like a woman fed up, "buy milk!"

In the end, no one used an interstitial in their story, even me.

Lexi read her story first. It was based on a disagreement her and her brother had had right before the writing session about who would use a certain pen. It had a nice fairy-tale mixed with middle school book feel. It started with a happy family and ended with a broken pencil.

Xavier went next. He wrote his story in the form of a play or script, where there are names on the left and then what the people are saying is written next to them. I had thought about going over that idea before we started writing, but I didn't want to give them too much information at once. I'm glad he took that route so that it was pointed out as an option. I thought someone might go that way with the prompt being dialogue.

I went next, because Bella was quite insistent that I should go before her. Here's mine.

- - - - - - -

"Why?"

He hadn't known what to expect, but he hadn't expected this.

"I think that I can do better. I mean... it was just the one mistake."

"Listen Dolgon, it was just the one mistake, but it was in front of everyone. Executioners make most of their money from people paying us for a clean cut. Everyone knows that the Duke paid me for a clean cut, and that was not clean. If I don't fire you I won't get paid. If I don't get paid, my family doesn't eat. If I fire you people will continue to pay me, and you can go to another town and try again, or do something else."

Dolgon stared at his feet, not saying anything. He hadn't told Braco when he came to apprentice him, but this already was his second try. How many times does a person have to leave the town they live in? How many times can they?

Plus, he didn't have any money. He didn't have any family anywhere. He wouldn't be leaving with a reference letter. He had nothing. Well, other than the clothes he was wearing, a small knife the executioner had given him, and seven pence, enough for one loaf of bread.

"What if we could fix it without me having to leave?"

Braco wasn't an impatient man, but he didn't see the point in talking about this anymore. "It can't be fixed Dolgon. It's time for you to go. You leave first thing in the morning."

Dolgon breathed deep and blurted out, "I could be an animal executioner!"

Braco closed his eyes, put his thumb to his eyebrow, breathed out slowly, and said, "What?"

- - - - - - -

It's an odd story. I also didn't use much in the way of dialogue attribution, where you say who's saying what. I think it basically works though.

I have articles on the writing processes of different authors. One of the most important things to realize is that there is no correct process, it's all over the place. We had a good demonstration of that today. I wanted to point out how I wrote this from the beginning. When I wrote the first line I still had no idea, it just seemed like a good first line. When I wrote my second line, same thing. When I wrote my third line I thought someone might be getting fired. It was only when I started writing the fourth paragraph that the idea about the executioner firing his protege for a mistake started to come together in my head. I wanted to point that out to the kids because you can see them get stuck in their minds and not know what to do. You can just write a line and have no idea why, that's okay.

In a different direction, Lexi drew squares on her paper before she started writing. I thought she might be planning to write a comic book, which I'm fine with. That's not what she was doing.

We talked about it at the end, and what she did was write a paragraph. That was her first paragraph in the story. Then she wrote another paragraph and thought that it should go first. So, she just switched the numbers in the corners of the boxes. Then another, and another switch, and again. My mind doesn't really work like that, writing a story out of order, but some authors do just that. The most famous one is Diana Gabaldon, the woman that writes "Outlander". It's a legitimate method. Not one I understand, but that's the great part about a group like this. I can't show them the right way to write, all I can do is facilitate an environment where they have the opportunity to develop their own voice. I can be a guide and give hints, ideas, and suggestions, but in the end I don't know the right way, because there isn't one.

After we did our discussion at the end, Bella requested that I write a story for her. After I asked a few questions I discerned that she wanted me to write a tiny story so that she could draw a picture for it. She loves drawing. (I was talking to Analiese the librarian today about a book that was suggested to me by my farmer friends Crystal and Lee. The idea is about Barnsy the Bumble Bee that lives in their barn. What if I had a kid illustrate it?)

Like all of my stories, I started with no idea. Then, I figured I would make something about a dragon. Everyone likes dragons. Bella explicitly stated that no small animals could die. Here's what I wrote.

- - - - - - -

Once upon a time there was a dragon named Ted.

Ted was hungry. He chased a squirrel up a tree.

Ted tried to bite the squirrel, but he missed.

Ted bit the bark. He chewed the bark. He swallowed the bark. Ted likes bark.

- - - - - - -

Bella insisted that I give it a title, so it's called "Ted the Dragon". It's a fun little story.

This writing group was from noon to 1pm today. At 6pm I went to an open mic night at Hackley Library. I was planning on giving a speech. I figured I would do it about skydiving and draw a lesson out of it. I made up the ending on my drive to the event. I call it "Sometimes We Need a Little Push". People liked it. Here's that.


After a few more people had done their things it seemed that there was still some time left, so I volunteered to go up and read both of the stories that I had written in the writing group today. I'm not sure people knew what to think of the executioner story. A discussion of an executioner in training getting fired for botching a beheading? Seems odd. But, the "Ted the Dragon" story was a hit, people liked it. (It's odd too, because I mostly eat meat, and it's about a dragon that seems to turn into some sort of vegetarian. Weird, so weird.)

Anyway, that's about half of the interesting stuff that happened in my life today.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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