The People’s Friend Workshop in Bristol – 7th Sept 2016

photo: Shirley Blair

photo: Shirley Blair

I was going to start this post by saying ‘Sorry I’ve been away for longer than normal but I’ve been busy…’ but I listened to an interesting piece on Radio 4 today about how ‘being busy’ has become a badge of honour, a status symbol and a competition (and how we’re all so busy (!) boasting about how busy we are, that it’s actually affecting how well we work), that I’ve decided I’m never going to say it again.

Or at least, I’m going to try.

It’s true though, isn’t it? As they said on the programme, the stock response to “How are you?” used to be “Oh, I’m fine, thanks.” Now it’s…“Oh, you know… busy…”

So, let’s forget the ‘b’ word for the moment. In fact, the only B word I’m going to use is BRISTOL.

Last Wednesday I was the guest author at the People’s Friend writing workshop in Bristol, which was lead by the magazine’s Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair.

I wrote about the last workshop I went to, in London, back in March but then I was a delegate, rather than a ‘teacher’, so of course, it was quite a different experience (but still great fun!).

This time, I was tasked with leading two sessions – one on getting ideas and inspiration and the second, on ‘structuring your story’. I had my trusty (OK, as it turned out – useless) kitchen timer with me, for timing exercises (it looks cute but looks can be deceptive. It clicked away merrily – and rang intermittently – but when it got to the end it just stayed silent!)

It was a lively group of 14, including 3 chaps and as we went round the group and everyone introduced themselves, 3 of the ladies ‘admitted’ to being in their 70s. It was hard to believe and they were the perfect example of People’s Friend readers who might be classed as ‘senior citizens’ but who are certainly not ‘old’. They go to Zumba classes, they drive themselves across cities to get to workshops, they have smartphones and use laptops, they’re active and engaged. Forget out-dated images of senior citizens with shopping trollies, hair in buns, living in isolation in sheltered housing – that’s not your typical People’s Friend reader – and one of the first things that Shirley wanted to stress to the group.

What else did she (and I) say? Ah ha.. well, if you want to find out more, you need to get yourself booked onto a People’s Friend workshop! It would just spoil all the fun if I give too much away.

But I will just say that one of the areas I covered (very quickly!) was ‘Show Don’t Tell’, that writer’s mantra that is the source of much confusion, for novice writers, at least.

To demonstrate how ‘showing’ is much more vivid, involving and ultimately more satisfying for the reader, than simply ‘telling’ him/her what a character is like, I read out two different passages. I’m basically saying the same thing but in the first, I’m ‘telling’ and in the second, I’m (hopefully) ‘showing’:

1. Jean was painfully shy and she’d had a speech impediment since she was a child. She didn’t like to draw attention to herself and if anyone so much as spoke to her, she blushed scarlet and wished the ground would swallow her up.

2. Jean placed the basket on the counter and hugged herself as Mr Dobson rang through her goods.
“Will there be anything else?” he asked. Jean blushed and shook her head. She kept her head down as she counted out her money and passed it to him with a shaking hand.
“Hang about, that soup’s on special offer,” he added. “Two for one. Shall I fetch you another can?”
Jean eyed the door for a second. It would be rude just to nod but when she opened her mouth and tried to speak, nothing came out. She felt her chest tighten and her breath come fast. She managed a small, tight smile. “Y.. yes,” she said, finally.

When we’d looked at that example, I gave the group a piece of ‘telling’ and asked them to convert it into something that was much more ‘showing’.

Emma Darwin – whose blog ‘This Itch of Writing’ I can highly recommend, if you don’t already know it – writes expertly here about how both ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ (or ‘evoking’ and ‘informing’) have their place.

Kitchen timer: its end is nigh

Kitchen timer: its end is nigh

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8 Responses to The People’s Friend Workshop in Bristol – 7th Sept 2016

  1. What a great exercise, Helen. That Emma Darwin explanation is so good – I printed it out a while ago so I can easily refer to it. I’m braced for Dundee workshop on Thursday!

  2. Helen Yendall says:

    Thanks, Kate – hope it goes well in Dundee! I think the Emma Darwin explanation is good too but it’s long, isn’t it? (because ‘show, don’t tell’ takes a bit of explaining, if you’re going to do it properly! You could almost spend a whole workshop on it!). I only had a few minutes so I just tried to keep it as simple as possible!

  3. Tracy Fells says:

    Sounds a great day, Helen. Thanks for the link to Emma Darwin’s blog. I met her this w/e at FoW and she is such a lovely lady, as well as being incredibly clever and knowledgeable – could have talked to her all day.

  4. Shirley Blair says:

    Thanks for your invaluable input, Helen (new names-remembering strategy included!) — and thanks for the intro to a new (to me) blog well worth following. – Shirley

  5. Lydia Jones says:

    Looking forward to being guest author in Manchester later this month! Glad yours went well x

  6. juliathorley says:

    I wish I could have been there, It sound like a useful day.

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