“Writing People” at the Sarah Orne Jewett House

On Saturday I ran my second writing workshop at the Jewett House in South Berwick, and had a lovely time. Eight enthusiastic writers joined me for a day learning about how to develop and write  people, whether fictional characters or real folk. Their reasons for coming were diverse: learning how to make “weak” or “passive” characters interesting, understanding why publishers had found a protagonist hard to connect with, how to give complexity to bad characters and minor characters, or just seeking new ways to portray people. They set me an interesting range of challenges to address. I very much enjoyed working out how to adapt my examples and exercises during the day so that everyone could get what they wanted—it made the workshop quite a creative experience for me, too!

Of course the most important foundation for learning good writing is good reading, so it was the authors we read who most helped me find answers to the students’ questions.  I’m terrible at remembering to take photos during workshops—I’m always thinking much too hard about the teaching—so I don’t have a pic of my group hard at work, scribbling and thinking. Instead I give you a picture of some of the books and authors we were learning from:  Jewett herself, Tobias Wolff, Alice Munro, Linda Grant, Susan Orlean; we also read a little Hemingway and Virginia Woolf too. Jewett’s eschewal of plot in books like Country of the Pointed Firs means she has to be good at making interesting characters, so she’s a useful teacher. Tobias Woolf stood out among the nonfiction examples: his memoir This Boy’s Life is just superb for the precision with which he pins down his people. (One of the things we wondered during the workshop was whether each genre learns from the other: Wolff’s memoir skills honed by his years writing fiction, Jewett’s fictional characters given weight by their real-life originals). Orlean’s The Orchid Thief is a very well researched, well-constructed piece of nonfiction to which I keep coming back in my teaching. Oh, they were all good. It ought to be a wonderful world, when there’s so much good writing to read. As a sign outside Dover Library put it on Friday:

things to do todayEveryone went home happy from the workshop, so I hope everyone felt helped with their problems, and that they learned something they didn’t realize they needed to learn as well!

I don’t know yet when the next workshop at the Jewett House will be, but the monthly Writers’ Circle group (scroll down the Events Calendar a bit to find us) meets on the first Monday of every month and we’re always open to new writers. Come and meet us, bring some work, get some feedback.

My next workshop will be a Writers Retreat day at Gillette Castle, East Haddam, CT, on Sunday May 22. I’ll put more details up on the blog when that event is open for booking.

Thank you again to the writers who came on Saturday, and I look forward to  writing together again at the Jewett House.

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