This first term is divided into two units: the workshop, and supplementary discourse.
Both these units are taught on the same day. Three hours for the workshop, a half hour break (across the road to the nice Italian cafe), and then one and a half hours for the supplementary discourse unit. The lessons end at seven o’clock in the evening, and then we usually head to the pub for a quick drink.
This is very much like the workshops I experienced as a third-year undergraduate, though the amount of work we submit is much greater. We take it in turns to submit 10-15 pages of double-spaced work, which we then have a week to read and comment on, before coming into class. The work can be anything we want feedback on.
People’s projects are all at varying stages, depending on how much they have written, and how much they know about their own story. I feel sort of ‘in the middle’, as I haven’t written a great deal, but I feel like I know quite a lot about the world I’m creating and its back story, even if I’m not entirely confident about the plot at the moment.
By now, everyone has had at least one piece workshopped. Things we have discussed have included wider topics such as point of view, how much information to use as ‘hooks’ and how much to withhold, tone, expectations and predictions from what we have first been presented with, and smaller details such as limiting dialogue tags, using layout to its full potential, and where and how to end sentences and paragraphs for the greatest impact.
We discuss the work, one piece per hour, and the writer is encouraged to remain quiet.
After talking to a few people from the other group (there are two Prose MA groups), it seems they have the opposite approach. The writers spend 10-15 minutes introducing their work, explaining what they were trying to achieve etc. However, it seems that the other group would prefer to adopt our workshop structure, as they feel that the introduction too greatly effects the type of feedback they receive.
I have to agree, I think the ‘silent author’ technique is the best way to go about workshopping.
Once the discussion is over, we all hand our annotated manuscripts back to the author.
I’ve found it to be a very constructive experience. Not only is it great to receive feedback, but it’s also great fun discussing everyone’s work, bouncing ideas of each other and looking at things in different ways.