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The Silver Spring Writers Meetup Group Message Board › The DiCoplio Writer's weekend

The DiCoplio Writer's weekend

A former member
Post #: 108
My pseudo-in-laws Chris Copley and Yolanda DiFabio (a.k.a. “DiCoplio” per Hollywood portmanteau) host a weekend writing retreat about once per month at various rented locales. Yolanda handles the den mother duties and Chris guides the writing exercise. The process goes something like this: Each writer receives a series of prompts from hats: an object, a character, a sensation, and a setting. Then the entire group is given an additional object in common. Chris does some coaching on the basics, including development of rich characters, brainstorming about the prompts, and the basics of "show don't tell".

My first experience was stressful, unusual and in the end, rewarding! I quickly figured out how to incorporate the objects, characters, setting and sensation I drew. It was the limitation that I immediately rejected: to write the piece as a musical, song or dance. When I expressed my refusal, Chris reminded the group that the writers should incorporate the prompts as best they can, that their best effort would be most impressive, but that some combinations cannot be made to work. I resolved to make "song or dance" the most critical element of the plot, so at least I had not completely copped out.

After Friday's dinner, we drew our prompts and partners. I drew the youngest participant as a partner: a very smart 13-year-old who had written some poetry and personal essays, but never a short story. I spent about 30 minutes trying to guide her through the basic short-story structure in a buddy session, then brainstorming with her prompts to get her started. When I saw her eyes glaze over (and Dorothy giving me that "quit torturing the poor child" look), I suggested that we both attempt some writing. She informally buddied up with another woman whose assigned buddy fell ill. But I did check in with her throughout the effort to make sure he hadn't gotten stuck.

After a tiny bit of rumination, I wrote my first scene seat-of-the-pants, and ended up with a shocking result. I considered my options and decided to run with it instead of re-writing. I set it aside for the night and went to bed. The prompts must have soaked into my subconscious, working away as I slept. By noon on Saturday, I had written three more scenes, completing the story. I goofed off a little, watched some TV, smoked a cigar in the hot tub, then decided to do some paragraph-level and sentence-level polishing. I sprinkled in the florid descriptions I love, then goofed off more. The plan was to have breakfast Sunday and immediately read our efforts aloud to each other and solicit feedback.

There's a reason why experienced writers call writing "the midnight disease." Around 3:30a.m., I woke after one sleep cycles and should have drifted peacefully back into another. Instead I went over my story in my head and recognized a really stupid and fatal hole in my supposedly-finished tale. For the next two hours, I mulled several possible solutions, and realized each would require drastic alterations of the 2nd, 3rd and final 4th scenes, all of which I really liked. Finally at 5:30am I figured out a fairly easy solution and told myself to go back to bed.

As if.

At 5:45 I got up, went to the couch and attempted to apply my fix. At 8:45 I had the fix in place, the frayed ends of the former version knotted and the sweep-through edits done--just in time for breakfast, after which we went around the table reading our stories aloud.

I like the result of my 12 to 16 hours of broken-up effort, despite some loss of sleep. Of course, the story isn't what I would normally write. I've posted my efforts in the files section as "The Prince."

This kind of weekend teaches us how to work productively within a low-pressure schedule. Each of us should be able to take a set of ideas, figure out how to weave them together into a compelling story, write a first draft, and polish it into a finished story. If we can't do this even at a leisurely pace, we probably shouldn't call ourselves writers. If you want to see whether you can pass this particular test, please consider joining us next time. I promise I'll post the details here.

You can find more details about their efforts here: http://www.dicoplio.c...­
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