The “tap, tap, tap” of pencils on paper was the only sound in a room at the Washington Public Library on Saturday, Nov. 17 during a writers workshop as writers drafted five-minute short stories about “a time they saw someone.”
The writers workshop is free to the public one Saturday a month at the Washington Public Library. For the past few years, writers of all ages and abilities have gathered in an upstairs room lit by three large windows to critique and praise each other’s characters, details and dialogue.
“It’s amazing how many people want to write for the expression of it and aren’t even out to get published,” library assistant LeAnn Kunz said. “I’m enriched every time I leave. It’s improved my writing.”
Each writers workshop features a speaker, and this past Saturday was no exception. Robert Lamirande, from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, talked about the ways detail can add and detract from a story.
Detail can give a story richness, and set the scene, the mood and help readers experience the story, Lamirande said.
“When I’m writing, it’s easy to think about the events but hard to think about what a person is experiencing in that room,” Lamirande shared. “We’re trying to convince somebody to read it. We’re trying to say, ‘Stay here.’ We do that by making them experience it.”
One of the writers workshop participants, Dave Stoufer, said he remembered a long time ago reading James Bond novels, and how he could really smell the gunpowder.
“Cleverly done, details can give us intricate colors and keep giving back to the reader,” Stoufer said.
Writers looked critically at a short story and discussed the details together. They then turned a critical eye to their own work they began less than an hour earlier. Some writers shielded their work with their hands while others confidently sat back when they had finished writing, leaving their page open for anyone to read.
The brave among them shared aloud what they had written.
Stoufer wrote a first-person perspective about one Christmas when he was playing Santa Claus and an ewe escaped the live nativity scene. Stoufer described the comedy in two farmers chasing after the ewe on the slippery, snow-covered sidewalks.
Emily Righter, 13, who wrote about a girl who saw the ghost of her father, said it’s harder to think critically about the details in her own work.
“I like revising other people’s work,” Righter said with a quiet laugh.
Righter said she has always liked writing and the idea of putting a piece of herself in her characters.
Tom Fleming wrote about his mother, who died 18 years ago. Fleming said at 70-years-old, it’s easy for her to come back to him as a memory to write about.
“Rewriting is harder than drafting because I thought the original was pretty good,” Fleming said with a smile. “Now I have to make it better.”
Isabelle Righter said she writes modern-day fiction, adventure and mystery. The 11-year-old said she writes because she has ideas she wants to put down on paper.
Hannah Nisly, 12, said she grew up reading books and enjoyed how they brought her into a whole new world.
“I wanted to create that for other people too,” Nisly said.
Nisly said she didn’t like writing until about a year ago when her family moved to Iowa. It forced her to think about emotions and how people view the world, which led her to want to write about it, she said.
Stoufer, who has written two books, said he fancies himself a writer. Stoufer said the writers workshop in Washington is popular because people in small towns like to be treated the same as people in large towns.
“This is a chance for everyone to talk about writing,” Stoufer said. “Maybe someone came into something like this and gets a spark of ‘I can do that,’ and goes home to write a story.”