Stella Duffy, May 8th


I very much enjoyed Stella Duffy’s reading packet so I was looking forward to our masterclass with her—I wasn’t disappointed! She is effervescent, full of energy and enthusiasm, and quite unstoppable.

Some comments from her:

  1. Each story has its own voice—there is no writer’s voice. Get yourself out of the way!
  2. Writing is about sound—pay attention to the rhythms.
  3. ‘Story’ is the underneath, the guts. ‘Plot’ is how to show the story.
  4. The story is like a river —plot involves knowing where to build channels between bends, where to build bridges.
  5. Everything is about pace.
  6. Pay attention to the (relative) status of your characters—one easy way is to set up a greeting between them and then cut out that scene.
  7. Even if ‘nothing’ happens in your story, help the reader find a moment within it (even the passionate nothing) to grab.
  8. Readers like things to happen, but these things can happen internally.
  9. It is the out-of-character moment that makes a character shine.
  10. Ask what if…
  11. Write shit to get something on the page!
  12. Play with POV—what is the story itself demanding?

We did an exercise that I found unsettling: it’s a little like the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ system. In a room there are four positions on the sides of a square (e.g. a table): Home (my word for this one—I can’t remember hers!); Dreamer, Realist; Critic. You move around the square, stopping in each position, adopting the relevant stance and applying the relevant mode of thinking. You go around the circuit three times. (Three is important).

  • At the Home position (relaxed, mountain pose)—think about your project/problem. What is it?
  • At the Dreamer position (open stance, palms facing forward, feet planted, eyes looking up)—dream about your project without limitation. If there were no barriers what could you do?
  • At the Realist position (a bit like t’ai chi brush knee and push. One foot forward, knee bent, leaning over the knee, hands like martial arts)—think about what is realistic to do.
  • At the Critic position (a bit like a standing ‘thinker’ pose)—what is critical? What is most important?
  • Return to the Home position to think about all the new information you have.

I found it challenging because, as usual in a workshop situation I descended into white noise and my mind was effectively blank! I’d like to try this at home.


Jac Jenkins generally lives a quiet rural life writing poetry and flash fiction. She has spent the last two years as an explorer of capability — living for nine months of 2016 in the Northern Territory of Australia, and then participating in Victoria University of Wellington’s 2017 MA in Creative Writing where her writing has extended into creative non-fiction.