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6 Tips from Writing Workshops: Opening Lines, Content, & Revision

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending an all-day set of writing workshops at Richard Hugo House in Seattle. Since I have been learning to beat writer's block, this day was a necessary shock to my system - an entire day of learning, writing, and revising is just what I needed! And, because I believe in the power of sharing, I thought I would disclose some of the most valuable writing lessons I took away - specifically on openings, content, and revising.

1. First lines should be the seed from which the rest of the story flows. This tip came from the very first workshop I attended that day, appropriately entitled Story Seeds: Great Opening Lines and led by sci fi author Sonia Lyris. "Call me Ishmael," she read, "If it were 'call me Frank,' would you still read it?" Her kernel of wisdom was that if the first line didn't get the reader to march on to the second, it wasn't doing its job. If it doesn't have a hidden dramatic question (who, what, and why are very popular ones) But how to find that first line?

2. If you love it, steal it. If you hate it, make it better. The Story Seeds workshop progressed with Lyris throwing out famous lines and not-so-famous ones and the class responding with riffs and alterations. It was not "stealing" per se, but rather tracking what made the line work and finding how it could apply in your own writing. Lyris returned always to the dramatic question underlying the text: if the reader doesn't want to know anything more, they will not read on.

3. Structured exercises are your friends. The next workshop I attended was called Story in an Instant with Cara Diacanoff. She wrote up on a white board six prompts that we were supposed to answer in a couple of sentences. I didn't know what to expect at first - I have always been a fan of the "writer's process," so I approached the prompts cautiously. But, lo and behold, I became a convert! Her prompts - which had us envision the subtleties of two people who share a secret together (the prompts are all posted on Twitter #writeorama) - allowed us to shape the bare bones of a story: plot, character, detail, scene, etc. I was amazed at the creativity that I produced in just 50 minutes.

Check out the other three tips at my blog The Cowation.

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Tags: advice, content, house, hugo, lessons, lines, opening, revision, writing

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