Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wanna be a better writer? Watch TV!

It's not the advice I would normally give a student writer, but it sure has worked for Soledad Rosas. So here is her advice: If you want to get better at telling stories, watch more TV...especially soap operas.

Rosas, a broadcast major and a student in my "Writing Workshop" class last fall, is a good writer. Right away, I noticed she had a knack for writing stories. Even with a simple assignment ("go outside and observe something...anything...then describe it...be descriptive, use telling details...write me a couple hundred words, and turn it in by the end of class"), Rosas created a story.

Here's what she wrote. She called it, "Talking To Each Other."
"Is that a man?" she asked Sergio, who sat almost, but not
quite next to her. Sergio stopped writing in his thin
notebook. He stood up and walked quickly down the stairs.

Sitting on the side of the steps outside Dwight Bentel
Hall, Katy chewed her gum rhythmically. Her long bright
gold hair, tied at the top, glided down her back. Her right
leg supported her against the smooth rail. Using a
pocketsize, Katy typed a few words, looked up and then
typed some more. From the bright green grass with dim gold
autumn leaves where he stood Sergio replied "No." They
giggled simultaneously.

A bright summer-like sun came down from the sky. Wearing a
red baseball cap that was his perfect fit and a bright
green T-shirt, Sergio walked up the stairs again.

"Do you think anybody took notes?"Katy said in a friendly
manner as she continued typing.

"No, it is such a great day," Sergio replied, and looked
indirectly at Katy.

"I am making background noise crunching on chips," said
Katy as she reached into the bag of chips with her left
hand. She grabbed some potato chips and ate them slowly,
making sure they crunched, then she continued typing.

Sitting on the concrete steps, Sergio also kept writing
every detail in his notebook. A few minutes later, without
saying a word, he walked up the stairs and opened the heavy
brown door. Katy did not seem to care and kept typing
holding her tiny machine in an upward position.

A moment later, she left walking fast. Katy seemed to know
the path by memory.
Rosas's short piece has characters. It has dialog. It has action (of a sort). It has a beginning, a middle and an end...all the element of a story.

I particularly like her closing line: "Katy seemed to know the path by memory." To me, that's the line that makes this piece hang really together as a story. It rounds the story out; it creates a sense of familiarity, a sense of closure.

When it comes to writing, different approaches work for different people. So, students, here is what I have to say: If you want to learn to write stories, you might try watching more television...especially soap operas.

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