Forays into Fiction I: Finding the Human Story

Kalam had started working through the medium of Poetry. It was felt that poetry was actually a more accessible form of creative writing, and more readily accomplished. And the success of Writing Out, which is mostly a poetry-based curriculum, testifies to it. However, for a while we have been feeling the urge to venture into other modes of writing, including Creative Non-fiction and Short Fiction. With this in mind, we had sought help from ASU’s Darcy Courteau, an MFA graduate and a flourishing young writer, in order to come up with a Creative Non-fiction curriculum. Darcy helped us create a skeleton of a curriculum, which we are slowly fleshing out. Borrowing themes and exercises from this curriculum (which is spread over 12 weeks), Kalam has started facilitating short workshops on writing fiction. These are mostly about testing waters: trying to understand how we can best handle this very different medium of self-expression.

Recently, Kalam was approached by Swayam, a women’s rights organizations working with survivors of domestic violence and their children, to conduct a one-day workshop on writing short stories. Swayam’s concern was that whenever the women are asked to write something about themselves or their experience of the world, they end up writing essays! How could they be inspired to see ‘stories’ in human situations, and write about those situations in the form of meaningful fiction? Kalam thought it could try. We termed the workshop ‘Finding the Human Story’.

So, I, with a quickly-drafted session plan for a day-long workshop, met a group of about 20 women at the Swayam centre on March 26. We had never worked with adults before. So, I really did not know what to expect. The participants hailed from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds, and their age seemed to vary from 25 to 55. Challenging, it appeared. But when we started the workshop everyone was so completely receptive that I was soon relaxed into the group.

What makes a story come alive is a convincing character; and the identification of the author/reader with that character becomes the usual human response to the story. We had a few photographs collected from newspapers and news magazines, which we had planned to use as props. The participants were divided into groups of four/five, and each group was given a photograph. We asked the participants to identify a person from the photograph that they want to make a character out of, and then try to describe the person’s physical, mental, socio-economic make-up in as much detail. Once that was done, we had to identify a conflict that each character could get into (which is the lifeblood of a story) and finally to how it can be resolved. At the second stage, after the characters had been identified and made more real through descriptions, some of the participants wished to work individually on their stories, which is, after all, the way it should be. Those less confident were happy working in groups. Throughout the exercises, it was stressed that while building up the character, the participants should think of an aspect of their own personality that they may want to express through their character, especially an aspect of their identity that is not easily expressed or visible. After the 6-hours workshop (including a 1-hour break), many of the participants were excited about sharing their stories. Some were perfectly completed, while some needed editing. We did not have much time to discuss craft and technique. Yet, some of the participants showed exceptional skills in way they began and ended their stories, and in the way they wrote dialogue or used bits of internal monologue.

It was a pretty successful workshop considering the output, but I felt that to work with younger people who are really new to the medium, we would need more concrete exercises to help them develop their stories and reach resolution. Swayam is interested in building a partnership with Kalam, and we may return later to work with the same group on more aspects of Fiction writing.

posted by Bishan Samaddar


2 Responses to “Forays into Fiction I: Finding the Human Story”

  1. 1 Sahar April 22, 2007 at 6:11 am

    Congrats yaar! I’m so proud your imaginative evolution with the project. And I think this is only the beginning! I really intrigued by the use of character as a pivotal impetus to the story. And I look forward to seeing the related activities. Keep it up yaar. And much thanks to Darcy too!


  2. 2 Bishan April 22, 2007 at 7:26 am

    Well, I think that when we read a story, what makes it most pleasurable is the process of identification with a Character. It is the ups and downs of the Character’s inner and outer lives that sustains our interest. So, i think imagining a character, making it convincing, and imagining a set of situations which may surround the character can be a good point to entry into the process of writing a story.
    What do you think?

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