Interview With a WriteGirl

WriteGirl Mentor Bree interviews her mentee Sophia, age 17.
Sophia and Bree have been working together for a year.

BREE: Hi, Sophia. Thanks for joining me for today’s edition of Interview with a WriteGirl.

SOPHIA: NOT Interview with a Vampire.

BREE: Right. Important distinction. So, you were at the Mentee Welcome Day last Saturday. What’d you think of that tree?

SOPHIA: That tree was radiant! It was beautiful. I felt like I was on the beach. The new space was really fun. I loved the fact that you could make so many different things out of a bland business room. Wait—is “nondescript” more politically correct than “bland”?

BREE: I’ll strike it from the record. (Proceeds to not strike it from the record.)

SOPHIA: It felt like walking onto different scenes from a movie set, with no barricades. One second you were in a slumber party on the floor, the next you were in a Greek amphitheater.

BREE: How do you feel the “no barricades” aspect affected your writing?

SOPHIA: It’s a wonderful thing, having so much open space, especially for my writing, since I tend to jump back and forth a lot. Being in a big room where you can jump from station to station and do different types of writing is just a fun exercise for your brain. I love doing on-the-spot work like that.

BREE: So let’s say your mentor (ahem) wanted to incorporate what you just said into a writing exercise. What would it look like?

SOPHIA: Actually, my mentor Bree (ahem) and I do this already. We do a lot of work where we draw from the most random things in our vicinity, oftentimes conversations of the people nearby. I’m doing it right now. I’m listening to the people around us outside this café and saving some of their conversations for later.

BREE: While still listening to me, of course.

SOPHIA: Of course. But honestly, that’s kind of the best part, the fact that we always become aware of our surroundings when we write. And you know how it is—we always end up writing some part of the same conversation into our stories. We hear something really weird and then both end up using it in completely different ways. It’s cool to see those different perspectives.

BREE: It’s true, it always happens! We hear something and we both write it into our stories, but in different ways. Give me a really good example.

SOPHIA: Well there was that guy who said, “And that’s how I got banned for life from the Hard Rock Café.” The weirdest thing in the world—and we both used it in our stories.

BREE: Yep! That’s definitely the best one in recent memory. Like, do I even want to know what the guy said before that?

SOPHIA: Probably not.

BREE: Tell me about some of the workshops you saw during Mentee Welcome Day.

SOPHIA: I really liked the one about character. Where we invented the character named Levi? That was really fun. (pause) I keep saying “fun.”

BREE: Don’t worry—we’ll take care of that in post.

SOPHIA: Yeah, the character workshop was great. Everyone shouted out different attributes, and it was great to hear the biases people have. Like someone would say, “Levi is 5’2”! And then someone else would say, “No-no-no, that’s WAY too short. He has to be at least 6’2”. There definitely wasn’t consensus. It was everyone throwing out different heights and then choosing which ones they liked best. By the end we had all these really specific details, which I thought were interesting. Like, Levi hates pizza. That’s something you never hear!

BREE: Right? A teenage dude hating pizza?

SOPHIA: I remember I used that the minute someone said it. They said something about setting up the conflict, and then someone else mentioned something about volcanos. All of a sudden, in my mind Levi is living on an island with a volcano. My story started: “Levi never expected this to happen. One minute he was planning for high school; the next he was living on an island with an active volcano. But that wasn’t even the worst part. Levi had to work in a pizza shop!”

So Levi is gagging at the smell of pizza while making a delivery. Then he looks in his rearview mirror and there’s hot lava flowing behind him!

And then, suddenly—the exercise gets cut off, because we have to stop and talk about it. Which is kind of fun, because even if you get out of your groove, you can pick it up again later and take it in a completely different direction.

BREE: Do you think you’ll pick it up again?

SOPHIA: I don’t know. We’ll see.

BREE: Whether you pick up with Levi again or not, give me an example of how you’ll use that exercise the next time you’re writing something.

SOPHIA: Character building. That was the premise of the exercise. Instead of setting up the story, you start with the character and come up with all the quirky little things about them, rather than just physical attributes. There’s always the basic stuff—“Oh, he has two people in his family”—but it was the little things I really liked, like Levi hating pizza.

BREE: God, I smell pizza so strongly right now. Talking about pizza and then smelling it makes me want a pizza so bad.

SOPHIA: Me, too. It smells so good. Oh, and then there was the workshop where they set up a tableau! I love that word. T-A-B-L-E-A-U. One tableau. And then the plural is with an X. I think it’s French.

BREE: There you go. You learned French at WriteGirl.

SOPHIA: Wow, I learned French at WriteGirl!

BREE: (in a very bad French accent) Le gurrrl du writiiiing.

SOPHIA: Intro to French! With tableau . . . Z? How would you say the plural of the word tableau in French?

BREE: IS it pronounced TableauZ? I think it may be a silent S. The French are tricky. All those silent letters . . .

SOPHIA: Oh those French. They try and getcha. (pause) Wait, was that derogatory? Strike it from the record! Okay so, the tableau workshop was another chance to work on the spot. It was very randomized, but it was also really fun because that one was making a whole movie out of just the title.

It’s really all about working with what you’ve got. A lot of times, when you write something, your mind is really scattered, and you come up with all these great ideas, but you don’t really know how to tie them all together. Sometimes the best way to do that is to make a title—something catchy and kitschy.

BREE: Did you just say “catchy and kitschy”?

SOPHIA: Yeah, catchy and kitschy.

BREE: THAT’s catchy, what you just said. Maybe you and I can do an exercise where we come up with a list of titles and write a story based on each other’s titles.

SOPHIA: Yeah!!

BREE: I like that you used the word randomize. Do you feel that doing randomized exercises strengthens you as a writer?

SOPHIA: Yeah. I think it works out really well for me because I do journalism. That’s another case of working with what you’ve got. The thing with interviews is, you either get a really great interview and you think, “This is perfect!” or you get a terrible interview. You ask the person, “How was your day?” And they go, “Great.” “How do you like sports?” “They’re good.” So you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

That’s what’s so great about those on-the-spot WriteGirl exercises. Normally you might not see the connection between a witch and a mirror. But they throw it out there, and you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. Sometimes you find that connection, and sometimes you don’t.

BREE: And what happens when you don’t? What do you do then?

SOPHIA: You cry a little bit. Internally, if you’re in public. If you’re at home, feel free to cry as much as you want. Because that’s what I do.

BREE: Aww.

SOPHIA: Not really. But maybe sometimes. A few little drops come out. I mean, sometimes you just don’t find the connection, and when you don’t, you have to take a breath and look at it from a different perspective. What I usually do is write down everything I can think of. There almost always ends up being some weird, ironic connection. And ironic is great. I can work with ironic.