Rarely do I get to say I’m doing something ‘in response to popular demand’, so I’m going to grab the chance when it arises. Which is now.
After posting about my secondary schools Narrative Toolkit talk and extended workshop, people asked if it was available for individuals, both individual students and adults. Enough people that I realised it needed to be (thank you).
Fortunately, the Queensland Writers Centre enthusiastically offered a home for it, and here it is.
The package comprises a one-hour video looking at writing tools and how to use them, and a second video applying these in a workshop that could take 5-8 hours (very approx). While the workshop as it stands leads participants to write a short story, I hope the tools will remain in the toolkits of all who use them and be valuable for any future writing.
And now, for the first time in my life, I’ve been asked enough questions that I get to put together some (non-fake) FAQs:
Is it suitable for adults?
Definitely. I regularly take the Narrative Toolkit approach when I do workshops with adults, and use these exact workshop steps. Just ignore the 2% of the time I’m talking about teachers’ expectations, the curriculum, etc, and focus on the 98% that’s all about the tools.
Is it suitable for primary-school-age children?
For some more advanced primary school children, there should be useful material in here, but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Even among smart, capable, well-read primary students, I’ve yet to meet one for whom all the material on finding a writing voice clicks, but that’s not the case with many of the other tools (use of detail, etc). Also, primary school students are necessarily encouraged to write in some ways that wouldn’t constitute good writing in the wider world, eg, throwing in your big words, manufacturing noun groups. These are valid skills to acquire, but it tends to be later that we learn that they’re best when used selectively. You won’t hear me advocating those things as tools. Interested upper primary students might get quite a bit out of it but, when they’re writing for their teachers, they need to remember to add back in some of the things their teachers want and that I don’t advocate.
Is it targeted at school assessment?
No. It’s about developing writing skills, not about a particular piece of assessment. When it’s used by schools with assessment preparation in mind, it can be accompanied by a customised intro video and teacher input to re-set the parameters of the workshop to a degree, if necessary. For individuals, though, it’s all about writing.
Is it genre-specific?
No. Well, not really. It leans towards contemporary realism, because that’s where I lean. I have great respect for the genre market (speculative fiction, crime, romance, etc), but it’s not where I work or have expertise, so I don’t go there. The majority of the tools should work well for just about all kinds of fiction. Some (eg, the web-based research tools discussed) might be most valuable for contemporary realism, though even they can often be adapted for other genres or time periods.
What if I want to write something bigger than a short story?
Go for it. The workshop mentions a (quite short) short story as its intended outcome, since that’s a complete tangible thing that might be achieved in 5-8 hours, but you’re welcome to give this as much time and as many words as you’re willing to. These tools work for short stories, novellas, novels and series. If you’re writing something bigger, you don’t need to contain your story to the single transformational moment mentioned in the workshop video but, at the same time, containment is something of a virtue and you should aim to write only what you need to write, whatever size creature it ends up being.
Is it possible to start with my own ideas, rather than the initial workshop prompts?
Sure. The bag of prompts comes from years of workshopping, and developing something that gets people over the first hurdle – the ‘But I don’t have any ideas’ hurdle. It’s also good when working with a group of people, since it sets the same starting point for all. But you don’t have to play by those rules. If there’s something of your own you want to develop, go right ahead and do it. The steps, starting with a focus on character, will still work. A review of the talk video could be useful too, as it devotes some time to how to go about developing your own ideas.
Do I need to do the workshop all in one go?
No. It’s probably better if you don’t. Break the eight preparatory steps into at least a few sessions, if that’s feasible. That way, you’ll be fresh each time you approach it, and you might be surprised by the ideas that bubble to the surface in the meantime.