Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout!

Hello, all!

First things first:  If you haven't yet entered to win in our 4 x 4 Blogiversary Celebration, go! Do! Who wouldn't love selecting a few FREE books from one of our favorite indies?

Secondly, wasn't yesterday's Progressive Poem a blast? Thanks, April! A tough act to follow, for sure, but it's Wednesday, and that means it's time for a workout.

This week I've tapped one of my favorite teaching authors, novelist Sharelle (pronounced like Cheryl) Byars Moranville. Sharelle holds a Ph.D. in English and has taught as an adjunct professor at various colleges and universities. She's also a regular workshop leader at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Workshop. Here she is, prepared for warmer temperatures:

Sharelle's beautifully-crafted novels include the award-winning Over the River, The Purple Ribbon, A Higher Geometry, The Snows, and her latest, The Hop (Kirkus:  "an enchanting adventure.") I'm a great admirer of Sharelle's writing, which is filled with powerful sensory details and layers of emotion that go straight to a reader's heart. 

Here's a backstory exercise Sharelle uses with her writing students – and for her own stories, as well.
  • Diagram the important places in the story. For example, the main character's house. Show the layout, the directional orientation (for the cast of light, breeze through the house, etc.) Think about the view from each window.
  • Furnish the house. Think about the furnishings and what those reveal about backstory, character, and conflict.
  • Pick a particular item in the house – a keychain, a coffee mug, a knick-knack, a lamp, a toothbrush – and use it as a prompt for exploring backstory, character, and conflict. Use it to create a scene between two characters.
  • Pick an item in the house that will become a motif in the story – i.e., invested with an emotional content, like the backpack in Susan Patron's The Higher Power of Lucky or the pearls in Kimberly Willis Holt's When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.
Be sure to check out Sharelle's website:

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum


Donna Smith said...

Love that backstory exercise. I think I will try it with something I'm writing. I have the picture in my head, but not in the detail that I would have after this!

Jill said...

Great, Donna! I think it's a particularly valuable exercise. I'm doing it, too. :)

Unknown said...

When I am writing I always have a picture in my head - I often lie on the floor gazing at the ceiling and imagining the view in each direction - it might be easier to see the details if I followed your advice. ;)

Carmela Martino said...

Ohh, I LOVE the idea of using an object from the house as a writing prompt. Great workout. Thanks for sharing it, Jill, and for introducing us to Sharelle.

Jill said...

Worth a try, Elaine. :)

Marti, I KNOW. I'd never tried this before, but what a terrific way to get a feel for a character's surroundings.

Anonymous said...

I'm stuck on a book I am writing and think this is just the right thing to get me started again. Thanks.

Jill said...

Great! Hope it works!