Workshopping Principles

Workshopping is a luxury for all of us. Think about it: people are reading your work, people are listening to your work, with the intent to help you hear your own words more articulately, to make your writing more poignant, more true, more powerful. And for those doing the workshopping, it's a chance to be articulate with critique, to express how the script moved you, or where the light grew dim and you lost sight of the characters or the storyline. What could be better than that?

The entire world of feedback mumbo-jumbo is useless here. The feedback-sandwich is dead. In fact, feedback is dead. Feedback has no place in a workshop; clear and articulate responses and ideas for improvement do. Everyone knows when they're being setup for the "bad news" about their script. To be most effective, we need to understand that there is no such thing as "bad news" in a workshop.

How can we be most effective while workshopping? Some guidelines:
  • Pay Attention. You have a job to do, whatever your role. Be prepared to do it. If your mind is somewhere else, excuse yourself.
  • Absorb the script. If you’re listening, close your eyes, sit back, relax. If you’re a reader, get into it, be your character. If you’re an author, begin to embrace the distance you'll need to see your work from a new perspective.
  • Be articulate. When you’re discussing an author's work, be specific. If you had a visceral response to a certain character or scene, figure out why and share it. If a bit of dialogue wasn’t deep enough, cite it. If you lost the thread of the story, find exactly where you lost it and point it out. If you loved a certain section or phrase or character, say so. If you're going to workshop, you've got to be specific.
  • Respect the writing. I bet you think I'm going to say "be kind in your comments," but I'm not. By "respect the writing" I mean show up, have some guts, be bold. As writers, we’re only as good as our last piece, and workshopping is the process by which we exercise our characters and try out the story before going public with a script. Once we put a piece to press, it's done, so we owe it to each other to show up and be direct with our responses to the work. If you see some way to grow the characters or the voice or the story of a piece, have the guts to say it.
Workshopping is like participating in a good race. My job as a competitor is to drive you, my fellow competitor, to your best performance. Ever. Feedback has nothing to do with making something better. In fact, looking "back" is a waste of time. Workshopping is about looking forward, helping to find the things that will make the script better, stronger, more resilient.

As an author, you'll want to be ready for this sort of approach. Stroll on over to the TMPW Author Workshopping Principles to understand how to use a workshop to your best advantage.

And, if you really want the low-down on workshopping, check out A Student's Guide to Workshopping the Ten Minute Play.

© 2013 Jen Whiting • The Ten Minute Play Workshop Project