Inside MAI Blog: Thoughts on global publishing

How to run a workshop by guest blogger Larry Brook

We’re  on the third floor of Fount of Wisdom Publishers’ building, about to write “first person” narrative articles. (Thank God for publisher Timothy Makara, who has turned on the air conditioning.) I’ve learned that Timothy was mentored by CMA missionary Steve Westergren and trained by MAI trainer from the Philippines, Ramon Rocha III. (Thank God Ramon trains publishers to turn on the air conditioning.)

Okay, here goes for running a workshop smoothly. Oh, great. I’ve just learned that in the Khmer language there is no exact equivalent for our term “first person.” I ask someone to check the Khmer translation, which looks something like this:

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I’m told that the translator translated the term as “writing from your own experience.” So we go with that.

How to say this – though words are key, my focus in writer training is on structure. I’ve learned across many cultures and languages that structure is what is missing in the writing. (Never a shortage of words.) So our first map for a “first person” article is divided into four boxes. I ask the writers to draw four boxes on a piece of paper.

Holy Tuk Tuk, we have a problem. Ham Arun has drawn 4 wimpy boxes, and he doesn’t have room to write anything inside of them. I explain with Dara the interpreter what is needed. Arun smiles and gets another sheet of paper and draws stout boxes. (Later, he tells me in a soft voice he is going to write an article about the day the Khmer Rouge murdered his father near Battambang, and he had to flee.)

Note to myself: TukTuk is what they call the little motorcycle rickshas I’ve used to get places in Phnom Penh.

For the personal experience article activity, I give the writers some raw material to use to flow into the four boxes. (That’s so they focus on structure, rather than words or content.) I give them a simple incident where a couple that is always arguing finally agrees to plant a garden containing both vegetables (for the husband) and flowers (for the wife). As the days go by, the husband pulls out all the flowers and the wife pulls out all the vegetables – so, they end up with nothing. Moral of the story: something to do with marriage, communication, conflict, vegetables, whatever.  

Photo above: Pastor Nara is writing a book for Cambodian youth. Besides pastoring, he manages an orphanage and daycare center in Pnomh Penh. In one chapter of his manuscript, he was herding his cows when a tiger approached on the other side of the river. He made noises until the tiger went away.

Here are the boxes and instructions for what the writers are to write in them. (They are required to fit all their words in the boxes – which they do and find it exhilarating as a structure to guide them in the later process of expanding and enriching the article.)

Box 1. Introduce yourself in a scene at a point of crisis or conflict. Sentence or two giving background summary of how you got yourself into the crisis or conflict.

Box 2. In series of scenes, build action with suspense. Conflict increases between yourself and some adversary. Reader wonders, "What happens next? Who will win?"

Box 3. Climax or high point of the action. You overcome the adversary, or the adversary wins, or everybody loses (or wins).

Box 4. Resolution. Quick statement of what you learned from the experience. Moral of the story without preaching.

After some quiet time writing, writers share what they have written in the first box. We analyze how well it “follows the map.” Then the second box, and so on.

Analysis. Someone shouts in Khmer, “Scene!” Or “Summary!” I add more writing guidelines. Then they shout new things, “Where are the five senses?” “That’s good, I can smell the dirt in the garden, and feel the rain on my skin!” They pick up principles quickly and are able to apply them to actual writing.

I have a love-hatred for the end of the day. I’m usually exhausted and need to rest, but that means I have to leave the air conditioning.

I go outside into the furnace. The sun is cooking Cambodia, but human beings are sitting around, flipping shiskabob over a fire, grinding sugar cane for juice to sell.

The taxi man – his name is Run - is waiting. (In Chicago, I run after a taxi. Here Run drives the taxi with me in it. I am tempted to call him Rabbit Run – maybe tomorrow.) We bump along the road until we pull up to the guest house. I run inside and turn on more air conditioning. Run drives home to his wife and four Run kids. They run to greet him. (At least in my imagination, they run. Ah, Run.)

Photo above right: Seila is shown in the middle. He is writing a book on marriage. He described the Khmer Rouge weddings: 20 guys and girls stuffed in a room at random, and you had to marry the person next in line. If you objected, you were shot on the spot.

 

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Comments:

Debbie - May 14, 2012
LOL-You had me laughing with the "4 wimpy boxes." I like the way that paragraph developed--from chuckling laughter to grim solemnity within four sentences. The bouncing back and forth between sober experiences of others and present tense personal realities creates an awareness of serious issues while avoiding an uncomfortable weightiness. Thank you for sharing the four box idea as well as your experience at the writers'' workshop. I appreciate both.
Debbie - May 14, 2012
LOL-You had me laughing with the "4 wimpy boxes." I like the way that paragraph developed--from chuckling laughter to grim solemnity within four sentences. The bouncing back and forth between sober experiences of others and present tense personal realities creates an awareness of serious issues while avoiding an uncomfortable weightiness. Thank you for sharing the four box idea as well as your experience at the writers'' workshop. I appreciate both.

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