Writing about Work – WordWeavers Session 3

A summary of what we did….

Last week, among other things, we talked about how a character’s actions can reveal something, a mood or character trait, for example, to the reader. This week, continuing to think about what our characters do, we considered the world of work as a source of writing inspiration.

The workplace provides many interesting things to write about,

for example

  • power dynamics and hierarchies;
  • competitiveness;
  • success and failure;
  • ambition;
  • unfulfilled desires;
  • favouritism and nepotism;
  • discrimination;
  • bullying;
  • loss of identity and confusion over identity;
  • satisfaction;
  • friendships;
  • romances;
  • work clothes – our feelings about them, how we choose them, what they say about a person, etc.
  • and more – the list is pretty expansive!

Setting a story or poem in a workplace anchors characters in worlds that many readers will relate to.  We looked at extracts from short stories with a work-based setting.  These included:

  • Counterparts from Dubliners by James Joyce – Farrington is deeply unhappy in his office job, bullied by his manager, Mr Alleyne, and borrows money to feed his growing alcohol addiction.  Rather than stand up for himself, he takes out his frustrations on his family, especially his young son.
  • Bloodlines from Bloodlines and Other Stories by Julia Darling (Panurge Publishing 1995) – the female protagonist negotiates her feelings about her father and his new partner while trying to conduct a love affair and oversee a challenging arts project for a Dock Refurbishment Council.
  • Rose Meets a Man by Helen Cross from Catapult (UEA 1997) – Rose, in her early thirties,  works in local government and is organising the pulping of Christmas trees while contemplating her lacklustre love life.  As in the previous story, the struggle to maintain control over wildly differing worlds, including the rich inner worlds of the protagonists, is nicely dramatised.
  • Evie and the Arfids from The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman (Salt, 2008) – Evie Applegate returns to work on a production line after decades spent raising a family but her employers have misjudged this mild-mannered and seemingly docile woman!

We also looked at two poems with a work-based theme.

Some comments provoked by reading these poems centred on the refreshingly different subject matter of Martin Figura’s piece and the startling beauty of machinery he so effectively captures, and many of us related to and were moved by the story of a father working hard for his children in Roger Robinson’s tender and gentle poem.

After reading and discussing these texts, students wrote a list of all the occupations and professions they could think of, then a list of all the jobs they’d had themselves, then they made a mindmap, writing all the words and images they associated with the word “work”.

Next, students talked to each other to find out about the kinds of job everyone had had.  This research formed the basis of the main task this week, which was to place one of their own fictional characters into a world of work and not one that they (the writers) had personally experienced (but had found out about through the research).

We’re looking forward to reading everyone’s work next week when we will be looking at writing dialogue.

2 thoughts on “Writing about Work – WordWeavers Session 3”

  1. I love this topic and always think there’s a lot I want to express about the workplace experience, but haven’t yet found a voice or shape for it, so your suggestions are great. A collection I enjoyed a while back was ‘A working girl can’t win’ by Deborah Garrison. (Although I think critics considered it ‘slight’.)


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