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Author Works with Aspiring Writers at Bellingham Library

Aug 27, 2014 09:28AM ● By Marjorie Turner Hollman
written by Marjorie Turner Hollman,
Bulletin Contributing Writer

Author Kate Klise brought energy, vitality, a great sense of fun, and a readiness to be surprised to her writer’s workshop, held as part of this summer’s reading program at the Bellingham Library. Designed for children grades 3 and up, the workshop would have been just as appropriate for adults as for children. Klise did not “dumb down” her content. Rather, she expected a lot, spoke with humor about her own failures in writing, and pointed out that “we all love to read about other people’s problems.”

A consummate storyteller, Klise began the workshop by sharing a personal story from when she was a child. Her big sister threw her first story in the trash, which was a good thing, according to Klise, since she professed to have written a terrible story in which nothing happened. “Then I learned to write a book with the help of my dad,” Klise continued. She showed a picture of her 5th grade self, with lanky, unstylish red hair. “I wanted to look like this,” Klise noted, showing the class a photo of actress Farrah Fawcett, known for her layered, flowing tresses. “My mother said ‘no,’ that I couldn’t get my hair cut, so I asked my dad, and he said, ‘OK.’” But her dad’s “help” turned out to be something quite different from what young Kate had bargained for. Her dad took her to his barber, who she figures mistook her for a young boy with long hair; this was the early 70s, and lots of young boys had unruly locks. Klise then displayed her “after” photo, the result of the trip to the barber. Her hair barely reached to her ears. She concluded her story by saying, “A bad problem can be a good story.” One suspects that young Kate might not have felt that way at the time this happened!

And thus the tone was set for a light, playful look at what it takes to write a good story. Klise offered a number of great writing tips, such as “plan to write crummy first drafts,” and “read your writing out loud.” She offered a rule of thumb for how many drafts to write for any given project. “Take your age, divide it by two, and that’s the number of drafts of your story you should write,” she suggested.

Klise led the group through an exercise using a clock face as a template on which to structure a story. Midnight—meet your character; by 1, learn what the problem is; by 9 o’clock, there should be an “oh, no!” moment, followed by an “aha!” moment, which will bring you back to midnight, where you started. But if you have done your work, the main character has returned changed. And of course, between the beginning of the story (midnight) and the “oh, no!” moment is the journey. After she offered this “clock-face” story-writing template, the participants knuckled down and began to write.

 When Klise offered a critique of several class members’ writing, they accepted her suggestions with great poise. Her critiques were given in the form of positive suggestions, and her enthusiasm for each writer’s ideas was genuine and contagious. While the workshop was a mere hour, the real work, of course, began as the children who attended put Klise’s tips to work in their own writing.

Near the end of the workshop, Klise encouraged the participants to look into participating in the Scholastic Art and Writing awards, a contest open to students grades 7—12, including homeschoolers. Applications for this year’s contest will be accepted starting Sept. 15. Information about the contest, which offers numerous cash prizes, can be found at
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