Thursday, October 1, 2015

Writing Workshop Session 11 (Personal Narrative)

Session 11: Elaborating on Important Scenes and Adding New Ones from the Past

What is your story really about?

Writing with elaboration is a foundational skill that we return to again and again for different purposes.  Today the purpose for elaborating is to "pop out" your story's meaning.


Scenes are the building blocks for personal narratives.  Sometimes writers focus on crafting an individual scene, while other times they focus on fitting individual parts together.  So, this means that when writers revise for meaning they often zoom in to revisit individual scenes and then zoom out to revisit how all the parts fit together.  

Today I want to teach you that when writers zoom in to look at individual scenes they often elaborate on the ones that are the most important to the central meaning of the story.  And when writers zoom out to see how all the parts fit together, they often pull in new scenes from the past and future to help get across what the story is really about.

Teaching Lesson #1: 
When you read over your draft, one thing you need to do is look for parts that you could elaborate on that will better convey the meaning of your story.

  • Authors don't just pick any place to elaborate on.  They look for a part that they knew connected with what their story is really about, and then they used what they know about writing powerful personal narratives to "pop out" small actions and bring characters actual words into the story.
  • They also try to add another layer to their internal thinking.
Active Engagement #1:

Now, it is time to practice the same work in your own drafts.  Holding on to what your story is really about, reread your piece and put (brackets) around scenes that are particularly important that really connect with your story's meaning.  

Pick one of those scenes for now, put your draft aside, and close your eyes so you can climb back into your moment.  Remember, don't ever let go of what your story is really about because that will drive the decisions you make about how to rewrite this part.

Keep your eyes closed and look around...
  • Where are you? What tiny details do you see in your scene that could pop out your meaning?
  • Scan your body...What actions are you taking? What are you thinking and feeling?

With your partners:
  • Partner 1- story-tell this one scene, without looking at your draft, with as much elaboration and meaning as possible
  • Partner 2- listen closely enough to hold your partners accountable to the meaning of the story and to stop and ask them to rewind if they start to summarize instead of elaborate
Add "elaborating on scenes that show our meaning" to our how to write a powerful personal narrative chart. 

Teaching Lesson #2:

 Now, I want to show you how writers can also pull in new scenes from the past. This is yet another way to get across your meaning and write powerful narratives.   

Since the story was about the girl realizing her dad wouldn't give up on her when she exercised poor judgement, the author thought about whether there was a place where she could jump back in time to bring out that understanding.

(Now, read the model text after the new scene is added)


  • The flashback shows how the author's dad was always ready to drop everything and put her first- literally, drop everything! He couldn't even acknowledge his own pain until he was sure she was okay
Now, listen how the author brings the reader back to the present time when he is walking toward the girls.  


  • The author took this one small moment, when her dad rounds the corner, and added a flashback that pushes forward the author's deeper meaning that, no matter what, her dad was there for her.

Active Engagement #2:

Now, you should consider new scenes, remembered from the past, that you might incorporate into your draft to further show what your piece is about.

Ask yourself...
  • When else have you experienced what you realized or felt in this story?
  • If your story is about a relationship, what's another time you experienced that person in this way?
  • If your story is about change, is there another moment from your past that shows what things were like prior to the change?

As you continue to revise your drafts, you will need to decide what work will best serve you as a writer and which techniques will do the most to lift the quality of your draft.  Whatever you choose to do, hold tight to what your story is really about so the answer can continue to guide you.


Here is an example of how to use a flash-forward in your writing:

"Everything Will Be Okay"
 When I'm older, I will go hunting with my father the way my brothers have done.  I try not to think about this.  I want to go, because I want my father to like me.  But I don't want to kill animals.

*This flash-forward shows how the author is imagining himself going hunting and this really connects to what the author has been trying to show in his story- that he has to become his own person.

(or read story on p.105)

Homework:  Volume is Important

Tonight, as you continue to work on your draft, you might add a scene from the past, or a scene from the future.  Remember that when revising, volume is important.  A goal for tonight should be to produce two new pages of writing.  Those pages might include an entirely new scene as well as a scene you've already written but want to 
re-envision and write again.

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