CWW Workshop with Darnell ArnoultPosted: March 29, 2008
I’ll tell you one thing for sure — Darnell Arnoult can lead a good workshop!
The Council for the Written Word had its sixth annual spring fiction workshop this morning. Darnell led our first spring workshop in 2003, and in the intervening five years, she has published a book of poetry and a great American Southern novel, Sufficient Grace, and among other honors and achievements, she was the 2007 Tennessee Writers Alliance’s Writer of the Year.
The colorful cover of Darnell’s hardback novel featured a birdhouse. Susie was in charge of decorations and food and had her husband build two birdhouses to decorate with, and we used one for a door prize and gave one to Darnell. Susie employed one of the book’s themes — food and baking — to prompt her decorating ideas, as she scattered old needlework doilies and cloths and aprons about the room, and served several kinds of pound cake (and of course, the obligatory Krispy Kremes!). There was food in every scene of the book — Darnell said she gained twenty pounds writing it. Susie, Currie, Colleen, Angela, and I were in charge of putting together the event. We’ve been doing these for so long that we can almost read each other’s minds and know where to divide the responsibilities based on the talents of each. (Like when we blew a fuse in the classroom due to three coffee pots going at full speed, Currie was naturally the one to find the fuse box and fix it!)
Darnell not only puts energy in her own writing, but she fills her presentation with it. And speaking of energy … a novel, she says, should open with a confident voice, a specific event, and an early hook — something that will make the reader want to move forward.
If you have an impulse for a novel, Darnell continues, it will only get you fifty pages. After that, the impulse loses its gas, and at that point, novel writing is hard because you have to start pulling things out of the air. So from experience and observation, you pull in specifics with which you can bring in colorful and memorable details (and you get these from looking through the little notebook you are supposed to keep in your purse or pocket to record all the interesting and unusual details that happen during your days). Once you’ve written a scene, you go through the manuscript with a red pen and circle every meaningful specific, every image you can see vividly in your mind. Then you hold the page out and squint at it. When you see big holes with no red, look for a meaningful specific to add.
This afternoon, I called my mother and told her I had a workshop this morning. She said, “Well, I bought pork chops when you were down here last week and you wouldn’t eat them!”
I’m thinking that should go in the little notebook in my purse.