Category Archives: Activities

Special writing activities…..

Workshop for Play Writing

MACTFest is offering would-be playwrites a workshop on Saturday, March 4th, from 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. at Schwan’s Community Center for the Performing Arts (located at Marshall High School). Greg Abbott will be running the workshop. There is a $10 fee to attend. 

Check out the other workshops and performances that the Minnesota Association of Community Theaters Festival is bringing to Marshall by clicking here. Our very own Marshall Area Stage Company is hosting the festival this year!

Steering the Craft: Session 2

Punctuation is sooooo dry! **whine**

It is also vital if the writer is communicating from a distance with the reader. We can hear what the writer intends when an author reads her own work. We hear with our ears. The magic of punctuation is that it allows us listen to an author with our EYES. Through these marks we hear the pauses, sighs, loudness, tempo of the text. If we as writers consider how we as readers feel when delving into the written word, punctuation comes alive.

As Ms. LeGuin says in Chapter 2 “Writing a sentence that expresses what you want to say isn’t any easier than plumbing or fiddling. It takes craft.” Every craft has a tool box. Within any craft there are opinions on the technique or use of the tools in the box. Some skilled people are dogmatic in the use of tools: there is only one proper way to use a tool. Ms. LeGuin discusses at length “grammar bullies.” We’ve all encountered them. Perhaps, occassionally, we’ve been one. This second session is a meditation on the line between a tool’s purpose and its use. Anyone expecting to effectively use a tool must understand its purpose. The deeper your understanding, the more freedom you have when using the tool. Which leads me to the idea I will carry away from this chapter:

And that’s the important thing for a writer: to know what you’re doing with your language and why. This involves knowing usage and punctuation well enough to use them skillfully, not as rules that impede you but as tools that serve you.

EXERCISE: Write a paragraph to a page (150-350 words) of narrative with no punctuation (and no other paragraphs or other breaking devices). This exercise is a pure consciousness-raiser. Learn about the value of punctuation by NOT being allowed to use it.

FOLLOW UP: Be prepared to let someone else at the Feb 21st meeting read your work aloud. If you like, immediately after you write your piece record yourself reading it. Bring the recording along to play for the group. Let’s hear the difference!

EXERCISE: Take a paragraph or page by any other writer (famous or not). Remove all the punctuation. Try adding the punctuation back as many different ways that you can think of. Read the various results out loud.

The source for this post is Chapter 2 of Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. LeGuin (2015).

Steering the Craft: Session 1

The sound of the language is where it all begins.

Le Guin opens her book by calling our attention to the sound of our writing; within the first paragraph, she goes so far as to ask writers to test each sentence by asking “Does it sound right?” Le Guin is quick to point out it is easy to critique writing by how it sounds, but among artisans calling themselves writers, I often get the impression that it’s a facet of writing which is often overlooked in the creation process.   So often, we’re taught the definitions for writer-ly words such as onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythm and dialect, and given a few examples before the lesson is done for the rest of the year.  We’re seldom given the how in using these effects these concepts can give, let alone the why. Le Guin challenges us to move beyond this head knowledge and consciously put it into practice. Luckily, she also reminds us doing so is “quite easy to cultivate, to learn, or to reawaken.”

An awareness of what your own writing sounds like is an essential skill for a writer.

On a very personal level, the more I’ve studied Tolkien’s writing style and language creation, I’ve learned more about the meaning behind the term phonoaesthetics (which ought to be included in the art of determining the sound of one’s writing). I find that the surface level of word choice focuses on words which sound good together and create the flow or emotion in a piece.  Phonoaesthetics, especially when paired with etymology, has tendency to develop a deeper level in word choice. It also allows for the development of overall depth in one’s writing. Unfortunately, this also means it takes time to develop and grow attuned to.

The other day I found myself trying to decide which word, decanter or flagon sounded better in the description. Syllable length was similar, and as I was working on a descriptive narrative piece at the time, I wasn’t really worried about repetition or dialect. In the end, I eventually chose flagon- not just because it sounded better, but because the word’s origin fit the context better. (The scene was part of a medieval castle, and the difference between the two words made the choice an easy one-flagon has its roots in the 15th century, whereas decanter finds it’s roots in the early 1700’s).  Later analysis had me delving into the quality of the vowels and consonants something I most certainly had not given much thought to until a few years ago at most. This is now a regular practice when it comes to creating my fantasy-based names. The two main cultures in the novels are distinguished by which consonant sounds are dominate in addition to their vowel pairings. As I said, it takes time to develop such an awareness, and a great deal of patience in doing so, but once you’ve re-tuned your inner ear to these things, I’ve found it to be an amazing tool to have in your toolbox for writing.

Why not begin practicing now though? 

  • Exercise 1:
    • Create a length of narrative meant to be read aloud (aim for a paragraph to  page).  Use things like onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythm, made up words/names or even dialect to do so, without using rhyme or meter. Play with the sounds and rhythms in each word, and in combinations of words to create a piece of prose.
  • Exercise 2:
    • Create a piece of writing (a paragraph or two at most) to describe an action or someone feeling strong emotion like joy, fear or grief. Intentionally use the rhythm and movement in your sentences to show or represent the physical reality your writing portrays.
  • For discussion regarding either exercise:
    • -Did focusing on the sound reveal or enable anything surprising for you?
    • -Did you enjoy intentionally listening while writing, or was it a strain? Why?
    • -How do you respond to a novelist or essayist who visibly strives to increase your awareness of the way language sounds by using unusual or archaic words, combining words in new ways, and so on?
    • -Does it distract you, or intensify the intent of the writing?
All quotations and exercise elements taken from "Steering the Craft" by Ursula Le Guin, pages 1-9.


Writing Pop Up at Marshall Library

Need some company as you cram those last words of NaNo 2016? Interested in dedicated writing time for a few hours? Whether you’re in the mood for fast-paced writing or the slower, thought-filled writing time, everyone’s welcome to join me at the Marshall Library from 4:45 onward tomorrow afternoon. I will have prompts and writing challenges ready for those in the mood for an extra word count push.