We did our first workshop on Tuesday.
It was a simple affair. It was a tad disheartening to learn that the majority of my students forgot to bring in enough copies of their story for students to work, but luckily there were enough student works to get through the class.
There were three students that presented on Tuesday: We’ll call them Prima, Secunda and Tertia, if only because the Charles Dodgson reference amuses me. I set up the workshop with the intention of not going through a student’s whole. Part of this was simply the short timeframe I have—If we were to workshop someone’s entire story, we might only be able to do one story a class, and I don’t have fourteen weeks to get through everyone’s work. Aside from that, I wanted to make sure that students were receiving feedback in a way to make sure they’re not shelving pages they write. One of the more annoying parts of workshopping in a Writing Seminars class is that you might write a story in one go, sit on it until you need to workshop it. I found the experience to be kind of like driving in a car at 60 miles per hour, and then slamming down on the breaks every now and again. It’s pretty choppy, and I think the story can change dramatically in a few iterations.
This is not to say that maybe a story needs drastic changing, but I was hoping to create a method of workshopping that was smoother, so students wouldn’t feel forced to changed their stories so drastically. Aside from that, I was hoping to use my class to try and change the benefit a story might receive during a workshop.
I’m only having my students workshop the first three pages of their story. I like this for two reasons—like I said, we don’t have the time to workshop full stories at this point (and we don’t happen to have full stories at this juncture), and we are able to help authors figure out where their work is going.
So, I’m working on the iceberg principle: that is, a person’s writing is synechdotal (woo, Charlie Kaufman reference! I KNEW I got out of bed for a reason today!). In seeing the first three pages of their story, the class gets a feel for how a writer is going to present a story, the perspective they’re using, the flow of information, the characterization, and some semblance of the plot. I also like the fact that the readers can’t really see where the story is going to end up, because the speculation put forward gives the authors ideas of where they could take the story, or how to tighten up their plot so as to not mislead the reader. Good times, all around.
So Prima, Secunda and Tertia got workshopped, and I’m fairly happy with the results. The only real difficulty was that the class had not been able to get advanced copies of the story, so I had each of them spend the first fifteen minutes of class reading their classmate’s work. Then, each student got ten minutes, where students talked about areas of strength and weakness. I was somewhat comforted to hear that no one had negative comments. However, the flipside was that the students might be too nervous to give constructive criticism. I’m having a bit of a conflict trying to encourage them to feel free to say what they want.
I dislike when a professor invests themselves in a workshop rather than letting students conduct it, because their words carry weight that students might feel obligated to agree with, even though they might disagree. However, based on the feedback I’ve gotten, it might be necessary to lead the discussion in order to get students to speak up. It’s something I’ll keep working on.