Communication depends on the relationship of the characters

Karalee’s Post # 94

One of my running friends sent me this cartoon and it struck me that what is being communicated is completely dependent on the relationship between those speaking.

The characters in this cartoon have an intimate relationship and what the man says and what the woman perceives he is saying don’t match at all. As readers we laugh at the interchange, but it is a technique (subtext) that writers often use to add depth to their characters and stories.

cartoon it never ends

In writing, we can take advantage of the relationships between our characters whether through family connections, professions, how well they know one another, and what their motivations are in the conversation.

The above cartoon would be different if these two people had just met and were starting to date, or if it were between two women or two men. It would also depend on how well they knew one another, if they worked together, if they have mutual friends etc.

Another way a character can communicate is by saying one thing when he/she really means something else. In other words, the character is lying. There are a million reasons why a character may do this. For it to be effective the author must let the reader be aware of the lie and the reasons behind it (although not necessarily at the same time).

How do you take advantage of subtext in your writing?

Happy writing!

Surrey International Writer’s Conference – Don Maass workshop

Joe’s Post #117

IMG_6034Don Maass workshop: “Creating a World Readers Want To Live In”

Is there a workshop ‘reveal’ etiquette?

How much can I reveal without violating the sacred writer/mentor code? Is there even such a thing?

Oh, hell, I dunno. If it were me and I gave good information, I’d say repeat it to anyone who’ll listen and repeat is often.

So here I go.

First off, if you’ve never been to a Don Maass workshop as a writer, you’ve missed out on something amazing. It’s not to diminish in any way the other workshops or presenters at SiWC, but Don (can I call him Don?) is a master of making you think.

How does it do it, the clever bugger?

He sets up an idea, a different way of thinking about as aspect of writing and then rapid fires questions at you like he’s interrogating you at the border about your bag that smells like you got into a fight with a skunk.

This year, I couldn’t hit his master class, but I hear from Silk it was amazing. Emotion trumps everything. I would have loved to be there, but couldn’t make it. However, I could make his ‘Creating A World’ talk.

So, I brought my glue, my coloured pens and fancy paper to draw up landmasses, add rivers and put in dragons somewhere. But that’s not what this was about.

As he put it, that’s location. He wanted us to make worlds people want to live in.

But how, dammit, how do we do that?

First, ask yourself, why do you want to live in another world? What is it about that world that makes you long to be there? Is there depth beyond the description?

In essence, how does a place FEEL? And the way we get to the feel of a place is through our character’s eyes.

Dammit, feelings, again!

He had many suggestions on how to make a world have depth, to get to those feelings, but here are 3…

What do they eat?

What is wonderful about that world?

What is the history, the legends of the world?

But all of this, ALL must be seen through your protagonist’s eyes. How do they experience the world. Go beyond the 5 senses (that we’re all taught to include in our writing) and live in the skin of the protagonist. How do they FEEL about what they see, they hear, they smell, they taste, they touch and how does it affect them?

That creates depth. That creates a world we want to live in.

My brain caught fire as I was peppered with questions like what do they eat at weddings, what’s your protagonist’s favourite food, what does he hate, what does he love, what’s a treat, what has he always wanted but could never have, what’s comfort food, what’s his childhood food, what does he love to drink, what’s breakfast, lunch, a snack, a secret snack, dinner…?

Then, THEN Don throws something at you that can really take your story to the next level. Something like, what does your protagonist hate to eat? Can there be someone in the story who loves it? Can your protagonist come to love that thing at the end of the story?

Brilliant!

Now imagine this going on for 90 min, give or take, and imagine examples and class feedback and lots of nose blowing (Ok, hey, I had a cold!!!).

game of thronesOk, so let’s take this idea for a test drive. Game of Thrones. What about food? Hell, there are cookbooks on the food!

What about how characters experience the world? OMG, every character, all ten thousand of them, experience a place differently. Does Geoffrey, the little psycho, see King’s Landing the same as Tyrion? Does the Hound have the same experience as Arya Stark?

What about history, legend? Do they all not live in a world where every city, every family (even the trees), have history?

You bet!

Now, is there a novel that you love, a world that you would like to visit? Does it go beyond description of places? Do you experience the place? Food? History? What’s wonderful about the world?

That’s the kind of world you want to create, right?

I gotta tell you, I went home wanting to write. Needing to write. To get that world out of my head and onto the page. To make my world another character.

Don Maass lit my brain on fire.

And how cool is that?

 

 

 

10 best things I learned at Surrey International Writers’ Conference

Surrey International Writers' Conference banquet

Surrey International Writers’ Conference banquet

Silk’s Post #106 — I’m still coming down from a three-day weekend up in the cloud where writers live. Sometimes that cloud is a lonely place. Sometimes it rains for weeks. Sometimes thunder and lightning make you want to crawl under your desk.

But at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference – #siwc2014 or #siwc14 – the sun is always shining when hundreds of writers and their gurus come out to play for three days every year. It rocks!

Bar time with Trish, Karalee, Silk, Joe and Chris

Bar time with Trish, Karalee, Silk, Joe and Chris

While I’ve been recovering (okay, the late nights in the bar and various social gatherings did have something to do with that), Joe has already done two excellent posts on his SIWC experience, and he only came for a day. I better get with the program.

This was my eighth SIWC. So here are a couple of fair questions:

  1. How come I keep going back – haven’t I been-there-done-that?
  2. How come I don’t have a book published by now?

First answer: I keep going back because every year I learn new stuff I need to know, and because it recharges my writing batteries, and because I’ve come to know and love the citizens of SIWC, and because it’s one of the best writers’ conferences in the world (even the big-dog presenters from New York say this).

Second answer: I don’t have a book published yet because I’m still a learner and I haven’t yet achieved a polished manuscript that’s ready to put in front of an agent or publisher. When I embarked on this second career after I wound up my design/advertising agency, I came to the party with 35 years of writing experience. I thought I’d be churning out a novel a year in no time. HAH! I must have missed the Steep Learning Curve Ahead sign when I turned onto that road. Oh, alright alright, my questionable post-retirement work habits and tendency toward procrastination does factor into it too.

That’s why I love the SIWC log line: This Day We Write! This came from a conference keynote a couple of years ago by bestselling author Robert Dugoni, who graciously let SIWC adopt it as their own. It’s the perfect rallying cry in this nebulous writers’ cloud we all live in, tucked away by ourselves most of the year, but connected to each other in a kind of virtual community.

This year at SIWC I attended one 3-hour Master Class, 4 keynotes, 3 panels, 5 workshops, 3 luncheons, 2 banquets, 1 agent pitch, 1 blue-pencil session, 1 theatrical presentation, 1 cocktail party, 1 book fair, and a late night book launch. Plus bar time.

Seriously, I really did need a day to recover.

I also took rather voluminous notes, and will share some of this rich trove in more detail in future posts, but today I want to give you my 10 top take-aways – some new things I learned, some things I thought I knew but now finally understand, and some things that just resonated with me.

1. Emotional impact trumps everything else in fiction. Story, setting, premise, characters, action, plot, voice, style, and subject are all important ingredients – but the real magic only happens if you can cause the reader to experience a powerful emotion. (Thanks to Don Maass for this insight from his Master Class “The Emotional Craft of Fiction.”)

2. To avoid obvious and clichéd emotional reactions in characters, evoke rather than report. We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell”. This is a kind of corollary. Make big emotions – the ones with a lot of gravity – like dark stars that affect everything around them without being overtly visible. (Inspiration by Don Maass, weird planetary analogy by me.)

3. A writer’s number one platform on the Internet is his/her own website. It’s the one thing in cyberspace that’s totally in your control, where you own the space and content. Think of it as the centre of your own online community. Use whatever social media and other channels you are comfortable with – and have time to keep up – to steer people to your website. (This point was driven home repeatedly by multiple social media experts, including two of the best: Sean Cranbury and Sarah Wendell.)

4. The most powerful social media tool a writer can use is (wait for it) … email. There are 3 times more email accounts than Twitter and Facebook combined. 92 per cent of adults use email, and 61 per cent of them use it every day. Email is 6 times more likely to get a click-through (to your website or blog) than a tweet, and 40 times more likely to generate new clients/relationships. (Thanks to Sarah Wendell for doing the math).

5. The 3 most important things that build your social media currency are: generosity, consistency and authenticity. Joe already mentioned this, but it’s so important that it can’t be said too many times. Social media are, first and foremost, about relationships and sharing – not marketing opportunities. Don’t be the person who only reaches out to others when you want something from them. Do more giving than receiving. If you support and share with people 90 per cent of the time, you get to talk about yourself 10 per cent of the time. What a surprise … cyber life is just like real life! (This theme was universally emphasized by experts Sarah Wendell, Sean Cranbury and Chuck Wendig in their “Social Media Smackdown” panel).

6. Characters drive story. Characters need to have agency. Active characters push the plot around, they don’t just get pushed around by the plot. Every character has to have a problem (a want) to be solved (fulfilled). In the gulf between the character’s problem and its solution is the story, which must wind its way from the problem to the solution through a minefield of complications. (While these principles have been repeated by many, in many different ways, Chuck Wendig in his “Kick-Ass Characters” workshop, brought terrific clarity and insight to these essential concepts).

7. To create tension, the writer has to walk a tightrope between withholding and revealing information to the reader. Tension occupies the space between what the writer allows the reader to know, and what the writer allows the character to know. The reader always needs to be slightly ahead of the character, which stimulates worry … but not so far ahead that the character seems slow-witted. (A great panel of suspense writers, Hallie Ephron, Robert Wiersema and Chevy Stevens illuminated this dark corner of writing in their discussion, “Tension: More Than the Edge of Your Seat”).

8. Planting questions makes readers turn pages. While this seems like the simplest and most obvious piece of advice in the writing world, it is a deliberate technique that’s hard to remember when you’re in the flow of writing, and easy to make too obvious when you strew questions around retroactively. The compelling need to know “what happens next” is the most delicious form of tension for the reader. (Another trick of the trade from the “Tension” panel).

9. Dialogue should only consist of things that need to be said, or are inherently interesting. Another seemingly obvious principle that gets wantonly violated by throwing all sorts of debris into dialogue such as backstory, pointless conversation meant to mimic “real life” and other content the author didn’t know what else to do with. (Thanks to Outlander author, Diana Gabaldon – the mistress of dialogue – for this reminder).

The one and only Jack Whyte

The one and only Jack Whyte

10. Read aloud. SIWC’s favourite Scottish icon, author Jack Whyte, is probably the best reader I’ve ever heard. With his rich baritone and dramatic flair, he can make the telephone book sound like gorgeous literature. Listening to him read the finely-crafted opening of his new book, The Guardian, at a special pre-release book launch on Saturday night, I was reminded of another excellent piece of advice that I’ve often received and always forget to do. Read your book to yourself out loud, especially key passages or dialogue that needs to be “just right” to the reader’s ear. It’s amazing how every awkward turn of phrase, bit of unnatural dialogue, misplaced word and run-on sentence will suddenly become obvious.

To wind this post up, I want to share the best word I heard at the conference, and its context:

Avoid online douchebaggery.

Surrey International Writers Conference – social media

Joe’s Post #116

Ok, so there’s like twitter and linkedin and tumbler and blogs and youtube and something called vines and snap chat and *head explodes*.

dressupNow, understand that I grew up in a world where we had to actually get up off the sofa to change the channel from Mr. Dressup on the CBC to whatever the heck the other channel was, where our phones were connected to a wall, where computers that now fit in our iphones filled entire buildings, and where we read newspapers to get our news.

So all this new technology and social media is a bit of a challenge, especially for a writer trying to figure out how to expand his online presence.

Fear not! On Friday, I had a lot of this explained to me.

I want to thank Sean Cranbury, Sarah Wendell, Chuck Wendig and KC Dyer for helping demystify it all and make it all seem possible.sarah So let me condense what I learned. First from Sarah Wendell. She said simply, remember this is SOCIAL media. Be social. Be authentic. Be generous. Be consistent.

It’s the generous part I’ve not done a good job at. Being on social media is about connecting and I think I’ve been more about entertaining (even if I failed at it) than connecting. I’ll try to do better.

She also said that writers may have to find their readers in different areas of social media. Joining a FB group that talks about Justin Bieber would be a great place to go if you want to sell a book about the death of an annoying boybrat. Ok, just kidding, it would be a great place to go if you were writing about him, but less so if you were writing and wanting to comment about the state of affairs in Iraq.

See, every form of social media has an audience. Know who that audience is. Within that media, there are groups. Find those groups. But don’t just connect to sell a book. Connect to connect. Connect to be social.

ce9f6e7f0564dc2ff07723effcd89b2c_biggerSean Cranbury said the same thing when I had the great pleasure of chatting with him for 20 minutes.  His advice, give to the community. The writing community. The reading community. The book community. Make a difference in people’s lives.

Be social.

Hard for an introvert to hear. Harder for one to do.

But I’ll try.

Lastly, when the three titans gathered on a panel, we all were given more boat-loads of great advice. Let me share a few of them.

  • Be the best version of yourself online.
  • Don’t ever buy mailing lists, make the connections yourself.
  • Follow, watch and see how great communicators do it. On twitter, try following comedians. They’ve learned how to be funny in 140 characters.
  • Social media should never be an obligation. Do it because you want to do it. If you don’t want to, then hey, don’t do it.
  • Listen.
  •  Promotion is not a dirty word. Sometimes it’s nice to know when you have a book out or what you’re reading. It’s ok. Just don’t do it as your only thing – then it’s just noise.
  • Talk about other people’s books more than your own. Be authentic.
  • On FB you are the commodity. No problem with that, just realize it.

I hope that helps out a bit. All of this is a good place to start. I still have a lot more to learn but somehow it doesn’t seem that scary anymore.

Blogs to check out:

Felicia Day –  http://feliciaday.com/blog (from The Guild). Funny. Honest.

Sarah Wendell – http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com. So much cool stuff here and a great example of a successful blog. She’ll make you lol for real.

Chuck Wendig  – http://terribleminds.com. Love him or hate him, he’ll get you thinking and laughing.

Sean Cranbury – http://seancranbury.com (and a host of other links accessable from his website). A wow site.

Best Twitter recommendations… all the above. Plus John Oliver. Sarah Silverman.

New word of the day. Dickbar (thanks Sean Cranbury). Ok a second one. Doxing. (It’s basically punishing people you disagree with online by publishing their home addresses for everyone to see.)

Some of the best tweets, check out #siwc14 or siwc2014:

Submit your work. You’re already unpublished; the worst that can happen is that you stay that way. quotes

“It tastes like dead Druids.” Scotch, with ”.

Information Doesn’t Want to be Free, ‘s keynote at cc:

Have a great writing week!

Tomorrow I write!

 

 

 

 

Surrey International Writer’s Conference – part 1

Joe’s post #115

surrey IWCThe day is finally here. SiWC 2014. I wish I could have attended all the days, but I couldn’t so chose to hit up one day in particular. Friday.

I had a mission.

Learn more about social media. Bug people about social media. Tweet something. Figure out if I actually tweeted something. Read someone else’s tweet. Say tweet 20 times.

Oh and have a bit of fun and learn something new from Don Maass.

My first thoughts of the day were, why did I have to have a crappy cold right now? My second thought was is everyone having as hard a time as me figuring out how writers use social media effectively? I mean, really, none of this should be hard, so is it just my age, my deteriorating brainage or is it really kinda complex?

Well, I had the right people to help me understand it. I’ll talk a bit about them in the next post, cuz, you know, I’m like that. In my novels, I’d call it a hook. Here, it’s just me being a bit of an asshat because I want to give everyone an idea of the SiWC experience.

So, yeah, for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t nervous at all. Nothing to pitch. No agents or editors to see. Just me learning and having some fun.

Having not registered ahead of time, I had to get in line to buy a day pass, a huge extra- large cup of Timmies in my hand. (Double-double, thank you very much). Day-passers are kinda like brussel sprouts at a turkey dinner – I’m not sure anyone really wants them. Case in point, we don’t get dinner.

Sigh.

I do like a good dinner.

IMG_6038[1]I got my high-tech name badge and fancy wrist band and marched off in search of a blue-pencil mentor.

For those who don’t know, the blue pencil meetings are a chance to sit down with someone who’s ‘been there and done that’, and made a living at it. Usually you bring a bit of writing and let them read it so they can help you better understand what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes you leave in tears, sometimes with great insights.

In my case, though, remember, social media focus. So I lucked out and found an opening with, oh, crap, almost gave it away. No, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

After signing up at the blue pencil, I went to listen to the opening keynote speech in the grand ballroom. With minutes to spare before the speech, I took a look at my thick-as-a-yearbook guide. It had a great title, the guide did.

This day we write!IMG_6037[1]

Which I love, but which was probably not exactly accurate for the day. Or the next 3 days. Maybe these 3 days we listen and then, THEN we write. Dammit! (I would have added the dammit for sure.) I’m honestly not sure anyone got a lot of writing done, but the idea still works.

I may put that sign on my dog to remind me what I have to do.

Anyway, if you’ve never been to SiWC, it’s quite the thing to walk into a ballroom filled with writers. The only odder thing might be a room filled with cosplayers or lion-taming tax accountants.

It’s a huge room filled with people, the vast majority women, who have gathered to learn more about writing, to discuss what they are working on, to connect with the writing community, and maybe even pitch a book or two to agents and editors.

Old, young, tall, short, hats, no hats, suits, shorts, t-shirts, glittering black blouses, sandals, high heels, tattoos… man, if you ever wanted to get some great characters for a book, you just have to go into that ballroom, but more than all of that, it’s a room full of people who say, proudly, I’m a writer.

I barely had time to look at the guide once before the event started. Having gone a few times before, one of the highlights in the morning is always Carol Monaghan.  (In the evening, it’s singing with the always Scottishly charming Jack Whyte.)

IMG_6018[1]Carol is just one of those people who lights up a room, someone who never seems to take herself to seriously and always finds something funny to talk about. She was in fine form today and started the conference with a laugh.

Then came the keynote speaker, a veteran agent named Peter Rubie, who was funny in the way only the English can be funny. He noted that the best stories are about people, not plot, that this is (and will always be) a subjective business (saying that some people love caviar, but he hates it, so no matter how great that caviar is, he’s not going to like it at all), and that procrastination and not actually writing can be successful ways of actually writing. Hey, I told you he was English, they think differently, but my takeaway from his speech was this…

He told us to ignore what everyone tells you about writing. Have fun. Write what you love to write.

I loved to hear that because my next project is likely going to be a pure labor of love.

So,  tomorrow, the whole social media smack down. Wow, did I ever learn some cooooool stuff.

 

 

Is productivity only measured in words?

Karalee’s Post #93

siwc2014For the next four days our 5Writer member Silk will be attending the Surrey International Writer’s Convention for her annual mixing with authors, agents and fellow writers. This year Silk has a bent for learning more about publishing and social media as well as attending lectures on the craft of writing . And of course, much information is exchanged among the attendees after hours in the bar and at dinner.

Joe will join her on Friday to do much of the same and  I’m sure they will fill us in on their experiences next week.

In the meantime I will encourage them to tweet #surrey2014 about exciting news or such and I may join them for a drink one evening. The conference will be exciting and tweets are already rolling:

Hallie siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

sean cranbury siwc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

kc dyer siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Cranbury, author and presenter has shared his work re social media if you want to check it out.

I’m not attending as I’ve dedicated my time and funds to the Writer’s Digest course I’m taking: 12 Weeks to a First Draft. That brings me to a quick discussion on productivity.

 

 According to the MW dictionary, the word PRODUCTIVE means:

: doing or achieving a lot : working hard and getting good results

: producing or able to produce something especially in large amounts

: causing or resulting in something

 

To me writers inevitably measure their productivity in their word count. Is productivity only measured in words?

Undoubtedly that is what matters in the finale since words are what our end product is. But before The End is achieved, there is so much behind the scenes work going on before, during and after our first and subsequent drafts until the book is ready for publishing.

My course has me looking at many aspects that go into making a great story. It’s not simple characters, settings and plots, but rather layers of depth that create a complex story with compelling characters and plot lines. That means a lot of time spent on ‘What if’s’ and looking (deconstructing) other books to see how other authors achieved their goals for an unforgettable story.

This week my mind-mapping  has continued and expanded to include sub-plots and how my protagonist and antagonist can become more emotionally complex, which also makes the main plot more complicated too.

I am having LOTS OF FUN and making great progress in my story. To me I have been very productive this week, albeit much of my work hasn’t directly added to my word count. It’s work that is very important, the backstage work that Silk talked about in her last post. This has to be mastered too in this craft of writing that we have chosen to do.

So this week my productivity has been:

  • most of my mind-mapping has been completed
  • character development, setting and plot lines are being layered in
  • Word count: words cut 760; words added 1600; total in first draft 2500
  • Hours in my office: 30
  • Times I journaled my progress: 0. I suck at this and need to follow-through even if only to see if it helps. I won’t know if I don’t try it.
  • Pies eaten: 1/4 pumpkin. My favorite and there’s so many pumpkins right now….
  • episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 0

If anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. I found this blog also helpful in developing my own story and not only for the one month go-for-it for NaNoMo.

Happy writing!

Deconstruction: Learning from the Masters

Paula’s Post #86

I have a little confession to make.

I actually had already decided what novel I wished to ‘deconstruct’  when I put up my post earlier this afternoon. Not only that, I’d  even started working on the deconstruction process.

But for today’s blog post, I so wanted to use an excerpt from the novel I had chosen. Yet I didn’t think I should do that without first asking the author’s permission, (even though likely covered by the ‘fair use’ exception to copyright infringement).

I didn’t expect to hear back from that author in time to write my blog post for today. At least not before the World Series started, which I know my husband wanted to watch.

He’s on the ferry, he’s on his way home. He’s already phoned and asked me to record the game and order pizza. So, with that in mind, I decided I’d better get my blog post done before he arrived home. As you may have gathered from my earlier post, we take the World Series seriously in my house. (Or not, depending on who is playing).

But that the answer to my email arrived, just as I posted. So for my ‘real’ blog post of the day, I’d like to thank our multi-talented, award-winning Canadian mystery author Ms. Louise Penny for granting me permission to reproduce the first paragraph of her first novel, Still Life. 

Still LIfe

On her website, louisepenny.com, Ms. Penny reveals that when she was starting out, she was turned down more times than she cares to admit and so now shares advice with other writers on getting published.

She knows what it is like to walk in our shoes, so to speak. Her debut novel, Still Life, winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards, was repeatedly rejected.

But take a moment and read the opening paragraph with me. I call it, ‘Learning from the Masters’. In one short paragraph, Ms. Louise Penny ‘hooks us’ with 4 of the classic 5W’s (no, not 5writers – the other 5W’s) and reels us into her masterfully plotted story:

 

Deconstruction, Learning from the Masters 

Louise Penny –  Canada’s Award-Winning Author 

Opening/Introducing the Victim:

“Miss. Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all around. Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless you’re of the belief everything happens as it is supposed to. If so, for seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines. She’d fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.” 

Ms. Penny has answered the 4 out of 5 of the classic 5W’s:

- Who? – Ms. Jane Neal, age 76

- What? – met her unnatural death,

- When? – in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday

- Where? – in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines, in the bright and brittle leaves

- How?- ah, she’d fallen spread eagled…. but, but, but… wait! We don’t really know about the “how”… and what we really, really don’t know, is the heart and soul of any good of the mystery…

…WHY?

Don’t you want to read on?

My heartfelt thanks to Ms. Penny for kind permission to excerpt her paragraph.

Game on.

Play Ball

file3371253285836

Paula’s Post #85

While I’ve been dithering, (trying to decide whether the laborious process of deconstructing a novel is a waste of time when we should be writing), a healthy majority of my hardworking 5writer colleagues have been doing just that.

Deconstructing.

So, since this is baseball season: and this is the opening night of the World Series, here is the box score so far:

Joe – hit a line-drive to left field and started deconstructing Gorky Park, Michael Cruz Smith’s novel of a Moscow police detective, drawn into a very political murder.

GorkyPark

Silk – slammed a long fly ball into center field, and is now flying around the bases on the heels of Shoeless Joe, as she analyzes the spare southern prose of James Lee Burke’s, Glass Rainbow (what a great title).

glass-rainbow

 

Karalee – is off to the races, er, I mean at the plate, after an injury time-out to care for her ailing husband, who is now on the road to recovery. Karalee has the bat on her shoulder and is taking dead aim on Dick Francis’ Proof. 

dick francis proof

Helga? Helga is on deck. For now, she’s just taking a few practices swings. In the next few weeks, her life will be filled with trade rumour turmoil as she packs her bags and looks forward to life in the Grapefruit leagues. (No, she is not leaving the 5writers but, like me,  is looking to enjoy some sunny weather in the south over the next few months. A 2writer subset of the 5writers will be playing winter ball.

Me? Yeah, I’m getting ready for winter ball, too. Only it feels like I’m still sitting on the bench while the game plays out before me. Self-benched. Sitting it out while I ponder the writers’ ‘C’ word: commitment.

This ‘deconstruction exercise’, as I’ve discovered, involves double-down commitment: not only do we need to each choose a novel to spend an agonizing number of hours ‘deconstructing’, for most of us, the warm up and first-innings also involve choosing a literary style or genre we plan to commit to until the last pitch is ‘pitched’. In other words, we not only need to choose the genre, style and type of the novel we wish to deconstruct, but it only make sense that this is a novel of same ilk as our novels-to-follow. A double – commitment.

It’s like being at Mike’s Gelato, faced with a dizzying array of flavours and choices. If only I could experiment a little more, taste a few more flavours, maybe order up a triple scoop, mixing up sorbetto and gelato, chocolate and salted caramel twisted sister, – oh wait – this is my baseball World Series post, – if only I could buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, too.

Okay, enough already. As the great Yogi Berra once said:

“If you come to a Fork in the Road. Take it.”

Time to “Play Ball”.

file000393008610

Later this week, I promise to ‘commit’ to deconstruction. Right now, I’m still waiting for a sign from ‘the manager’.

 

Backstage at a bestseller

backstage

Silk’s Post #105 — When Paula wondered in her last post whether the 5/5/5 exercise of deconstructing a novel was a waste of time – didn’t it make more sense to stop with the procrastinating and diversions and just dive in to writing our own novels? – I admit I was conflicted too.

My enthusiasm for getting started on a new project was boosted by our 5/5/5 mini-retreat in Vancouver, and I couldn’t wait to shake off the demons of sloth and get back to writing again. Did I really need this deconstruction side trip? I have what I think is a strong story premise and promising characters. It felt like this was the time to step on the gas, not the brakes.

At the same time, I know that building a plot and structure that really works for this story will be an architectural challenge. And I know I haven’t mastered this fundamental skill. Do I really want to spend the next year of my life creating a novel that can’t pass book-building inspection, and is destined to fill yet another bottom drawer for eternity?

So I decided to at least try it. The possible up side (finding the magic plotting bullet) outweighed the possible down side (getting derailed from my writing). I figured the likeliest outcome would be that I’d re-read a great book and at least get inspired, at the expense of a quick start on my own story.

Well, it looks like I was wrong – in a good way. Let me explain.

The thing about learning a delicate craft – like writing – from books, or workshops, or courses, or writers conferences, is that these are a lot like elementary or high school studies. Learning from books and lectures has some major limitations. You can memorize and grasp concepts and follow step-by-step instructions all you like, and at the end you’ll probably have a book. But will it be a good book? A well-constructed book? A book that a smart agent will take a chance on? A book that compels readers to turn the page? A book they’ll actually remember a month after they read it?

I’ve read that most new writers essentially learn their craft through trial and error. That’s certainly been my path. But how much of this learning-from-your-mistakes can you do and still remain inspired? Frustratingly, finding out exactly what mistakes you’ve made is a whole challenge in itself. A critique group certainly can help here, but many unpublished writers learn that they’ve (probably) made mistakes through rejection letters – without getting the feedback needed to actually learn from those mistakes.

Another of the oft-repeated pieces of advice to writers is to read read read. Read widely, but especially read great writers and learn from them. The theory seems sound: learn by example. Somehow, by osmosis, you will absorb the literary genius of a bestseller and replicate it, with practice. Kind of a monkey-see-monkey-do thing.

While reading is an absolute essential for writers, and it’s easy (almost too easy) to mimic another writer’s style and voice, there’s one little hitch in learning to plot through exposure to good writing.

As a front-of-stage reader, the backstage mechanics of plot and structure are invisible to you, hidden behind the curtain. That’s the magic. The more skilled the writer, the more opaque are the pulleys and levers and ropes and set and lighting elements that make the whole show work seamlessly. The girl who appeared to be sawn in half emerges whole. The doves fly out of the hat. The magician disappears in a puff of smoke. You, the reader, are simply transported, disbelief suspended.

Every time I read a great book I find myself fooled once more. Even though I’ve learned much about writing, I get swept away in a good story and at the end I find myself again wondering: how did the author do that magic? (Formulaic books are another thing altogether, their plots often transparent and predictable.)

glass-rainbowBut within the first 10 page of deconstructing my chosen book, The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke – using the methodology suggested by James Scott Bell in his book Plot and Structure (see “How to Improve Your Plotting Exponentially”), I realized I had just stepped backstage.

This is where the magic gets done. Immediately, secrets began to be revealed. The pulleys and levers became exposed as I watched the master writer at work, behind the curtain, and documented what I saw.

The bizarre thing about novel deconstruction is: all you’re doing is reading, but with one difference. You don’t sit in front of the curtain in the audience and let the plot sweep you forward. You simply go backstage and stop the action at the end of every scene to examine what the writer has actually done.

Every page, every paragraph, every word in the opening of The Glass Rainbow had a job to do. By page 1, the reader had been sucked into the humid, decaying world of a marginalized and lawless society, set at the slow-simmering pace of the deep South. By page 2, the reader had seen inside the sleuth/protagonist’s heart-of-hearts and come to understand what he values, what he fears, what drives him. By page 6 the troubling circumstances of the crime that triggers the whole plot, and the challenges of achieving justice in this case, had been introduced.

All this was accomplished in 2 scenes and maybe 2,000 words. The magic? Even though the pace was as unhurried as a road gang prisoner sweating over his labour under the noonday Mississippi sun (the setting of Scene 2), the reader on the audience side of the curtain had quickly been swept deep into the plot and hooked on the story, the characters, the setting … the mystery of it all.

And now that I’ve been backstage, I have a good idea how James Lee Burke did it.

Wow.

For me, this exercise is not a diversion from writing. It’s an internship with a master.

 


Box Score

Books deconstructed: < 1% of one book

Pages of my book written: 0

Blog posts written: 1

Travel planned and booked: 1 trip (New Zealand)

What I’m reading this week: The Glass Rainbow, James Lee Burke; The Ascent of Women, Sally Armstrong; New Zealand, Lonely Planet

Health status: Miserable cold

Pies eaten: 1/3, variety: pizza

Best thing this week: Discovering deconstruction

Worst thing this week: Relentless Ebola news everywhere

Deconstructing deconstructing

Joe’s Post #114

In Paula’s most recent post, she raised a good point. Are we writing more about writing than writing? Or analyzing writing instead of writing?

The answer is simple.

http://aaronmritchey.com/2013/04/11/my-completely-unauthorized-interview-with-steampunk-goddess-gail-carriger/

aaronmritchey.com

Yes. Yes we are.

But it’s a process we’re using to get back to the job of actually writing a book. Put another way, how do you break out of a slump?

Hence, the idea of deconstructing a book. But what book?

Reading crap is the worst thing to do. It makes you wonder why your novel wasn’t published when some piece of garbage was. Oh, I know there are reasons for it, chiefly being that publishers (rightly) always consider the bottom line or, in other words, will it sell?

Reading a good novel, though, could help us get back to the idea that words and ideas matter.

GorkyParkI can’t speak for everyone, but that’s working for me. I’m looking at Gorky Park. I’m reading it slowly, seeing where he puts in his hooks, how he works his pacing and description and manages to keep a complicated plot understandable. On page 1, our hero is looking at three mutilated dead bodies and the evil KGB dude beside him says, “One day that’ll be you.”

I mean, wow. So I stopped reading and made notes on how I can do something like that in my story.

Then we see our hero try to get out of investigating the case. Now this is not normal. Not normal at all. It’s a massive ‘refusal of the call’, and yet his reasons are sound. No one messes with the KGB and this case screams KGB. If he takes it on, it could ‘lead places’, places that could get our hero in serious poo.

So, again, wow. All this in 3 pages.

I wrote more notes. I remembered that I needed to get the plot and stakes going fast. Like by page 5, fast. It’s something that’s easy to forget. Put hero in poo and make it super smelly.

arkadyI read on. Our hero’s fighting his inner self. The inner self has many questions about these murders. Despite his wise ‘self’ thinking he’s got to find a way to dump this case, he just can’t. It’s not in him. He will find the truth, no matter the cost.

Damn, I’m hooked. Aren’t you?

More notes are made. An opening scene is coming to mind. Characters are forming.

This is working.

Oh, this may not be for everyone. I get that. But for me it’s like doing a warm up before doing heavy exercise (not that I do that, but, you know, I’m, just saying.)

*****

This week, call it week 2

Watched Walking Dead. OMG good. Want to learn about great writing, take a look at that show.

Outlines Done – 0

Pages written on New Book – 0

# turkeys eaten – 0!!! Not a one. Nada. So sad.

# of new friends made on Twitter – 102

# of new friends who offered to sell me 1000 followers for $49.99 – 86

Days to SiWC – 7