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In a Nutshell: Shared Wisdom from Gotham

April 17, 2013

Michelle Adelman shared these tips from the Gotham Writers Dialogue workshop with Carl Capotorto :

Dialogue moves plot, reveals character and conveys tone. No two characters should sound alike. It’s important to get to the essence–get into dialogue as late as possible and get out quickly. Most characters only talk if they want something. Angry characters are more likely to explain at greater length so anger can be used for expository purposes: “I love you dearly, but ever since you joined the Oboe Orchestra, you’re out Monday, Wednesday, Friday and all day Sunday and I’m fed up with making dinner for your weekly visit with your teenage triplet sons.”

Alison Girling and Anita Morris shared notes on the Memoir Workshop with Marie Carter and the Personal Essay workshop with Melissa Petro:

The difference between the two forms is that memoir paints the essence of a life and links the individual to the larger society while essays use personal experience to support a claim.

Memoir is not autobiography, but highlights a theme or an aspect of a person’s life.  Frank McCourt vividly described his upbringing in a poor Irish family in Angela’s Ashes but focused on his professional experiences in Teacher Man.

Unlike memoir, personal essays use experiences to support a claim or to persuade readers to understand something in a new way. Essays hinge on a “nutgraf” (aka nut graph) or nutshell paragraph that summarizes a central thesis.  Just as a memoir may examine a single life through different lenses, essays can use a single personal experience to support a number of different claims. A skydiving lesson could illustrate claims about risk, peer pressure or the merits of paying attention in class.

In both memoir and personal essay, the writer must focus on engaging the reader with vivid, interesting writing.

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