These writing-related news posts are going to be a regular feature from now on. Here’s what I’ve been up to this week:
1. Writers Victoria held a wonderful seminar at the Wheeler Centre with manuscript consultant and literary agent Alex Adsett. It was really informative – and, to an emerging writer, exciting. Some of it was familiar (an agent should never take more than their commission), but some of it was new to me and really interesting.
In particular, I was fascinated by how copyright affects the ‘stealing’ of ideas. ‘Stealing ideas’ is something that mainly beginners are concerned about: what if somebody takes your idea, writes it faster than you can, and makes all the money you should have made? (Writers making money… ha ha ha ha. 😦 )
Well, you don’t have to worry. Plagiarism of this sort is rare – it’s way more common for unscrupulous folks to copy a successful novel than an unknown writer’s outline for a story. Ideas are, of course, a dime a dozen, and similar storylines are common: what you’re selling when you write a book is mainly your telling of the story. The film industry is different, where you can sell a concept, although broad ideas are fair game; you’d be silly to sue over a similarity as broad as ‘awkward young lady moves to small town and finds love’. But what I found intriguing was that if somebody really did ‘steal your idea’ for a novel, as long as you could prove you did it first it would blow up in the plagiarist’s face. So write it down!
2. This is why I can tell you all with impunity that my new futuristic school play is coming along nicely. I’m writing it with my old secondary school in mind, so it’s for an all-female cast. If they decide not to take it, though, I’ll be offering it to a director friend of mine.
I have a great feeling about this one. It’s a little darker and more political than Shift and Ghost, inspired by the time I went dumpster diving with my cousin and we found more untouched gourmet bread, decent produce and lekach cake than we knew what to do with. YA sci-fi has gone out of fashion somewhat in literature and film, but is still fair game on the high school theatre scene, as far as I can tell. The important thing is that I’m writing it for teenagers and for today. If I can spare just one group of girls from being in some daggy fifties musical that doesn’t match their values at all, then I will count that as a success.
At the moment, the title is ‘Treasure‘. I mentioned last week that it’s about helicopter parenting and extreme freeganism (aka, subsisting on stuff you find in the garbage for free). More specifically, it’s about a teen girl who lives in a germophobic utopia above the clouds, after a plague supposedly wiped on the hoi polloi on the earth below. Her life is controlled by her mother, who is the CEO of a robot-manufacturing corporation. One day she gets a little too curious about the company’s affairs, and somebody tries to kill her by dumping her down the garbage chute: if the fall doesn’t kill her, the plague will. But to her surprise, there are healthy people still living below – and they’re mightily pissed off to find this ‘precious cloud-girl’ on their turf.
3. Finally, I ran another workshop with Access; this one was about plotting. In the past I’ve run quite a few workshops with Access – drama ones, as well as creative writing. This week we were doing something a bit unusual. The Access artists have been making wonderful puppets for a story about a circus under the sea, so we experimented with the puppets to try to find ways of generating plot from character.
Running a workshop with artists who have intellectual disabilities can be a challenge. You’ve got to have a thick skin, because it’s the sort of classroom where honesty takes precedence over politeness and you will know if the class is bored. On the other hand, the Access artists are some of the most imaginative and sensitive creators I know. They empathise with their characters. They can be great at thinking outside the box: we developed the aquatic circus concept in one of my workshops too. When I’m there, I use proper literary terminology and try not to restrict the artists too much, although there is a bit of shepherding needed from the facilitators, the volunteers and me. The way I usually run the class is to stand up at the whiteboard and take suggestions from the group on where a story could go, then we all vote on our favourite option. Somebody always wants to copy the plot of a Disney movie, so I knock the first few ideas out of the way. It’s around the fourth suggestion that things get interesting. I mix it up sometimes with worksheets and improvisation activities.
All in all, it was a great sesh! I spent most of it with an Enyo mop on my arm, pretending it was a bright orange dreadlocked Muppet, to demonstrate how to make a stiff-faced (or faceless) puppet express emotion. Through drama games and making our characters interact, we generated three plot ideas that would fit nicely with the tone of the story.
I have plenty of notes from my Access workshops. If you would like to use these resources to run a creative writing workshop, whether or not your students have intellectual disabilities, please tell me in the comments!