More Guidelines for Good Workshop Discussions

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BWW writer Colleen McLaughlin (center) offers some wise advice to Paul Hobday (right).

A few months ago, I posted six guidelines for workshop discussions. Folks suggested more, which I think are worth mentioning here.

7.   Assume the writer meant every word. Writers are expected to make a piece as good as it can possibly be before workshop members read it. It’s not helpful to say, “I’m not sure the writer meant to do this, but…” The writer did it. It’s our job to explain what the writer did, not what we think the writer meant to do. The writer knows what s/he attempted to do and will correct later if corrections are needed.

8.   For nonfiction, treat the main character as a constructed character.  The character on the page is different from the one sitting in the room with us, even if this is “nonfiction” and therefore to a certain degree truthful in the literal sense. We should avoid using the word “you” (we shouldn’t be addressing the writer during discussions anyway; see Guideline #1). According to the person who commented on my original post, following this rule will help “keep the discussion focused on the narrator character on the page and not the personal life of the writer sitting across the table.” Well said!

9.   For fiction, never assume the writer is writing about her/his self. Just don’t go there. It’s irrelevant, anyway.

10.  Avoid tangents. It’s fine to bring up personal experience when it relates to something happening in a story, but it’s not helpful to launch into a long story.

I have a feeling that this list will continue to grow, so please do leave your comments and help us continue to improve our discussions.

About Peter Biello

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered on New Hampshire Public Radio and a writer of short stories, novels, book reviews, and essays. He's also the host of The Bookshelf, a series of interviews with authors from or writing about the Granite State.
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