Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, April 29-May 5, 2018

Another week has passed and here I am with another batch of informal writerly learnings 🙂

K.M. Weiland asks, what should your characters talk about? Helping Writers Become Authors

Julie Carrick Dalton says, it’s time cli-fi (climate fiction) became its own genre. I agree in part … The examples she cites are from a number of different genres, though. I don’t know if publishing in general or marketing in particular will be willing to get on board. Stranger things have happened. Writer Unboxed

Therese Walsh explains why you think your writing is brilliant one day and horrible the next. It’s a thing. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass considers authenticity vs. outline. As with many other aspects of craft, it’s a matter of balance, not one over the other. Writer Unboxed

Julie Glover walks you through the five stages of editing grief. Writers in the Storm

Fae Rowan helps you world build using deep POV. Writers in the Storm

Christina Delay is living for the writing wins. Writers in the Storm

Gabriela Pereira helps you write by design using colour theory. Writers Helping Writers

Kristen Lamb: why every writing project needs a synopsis, even though you hate writing them.

Elisabeth Kauffman tells you how to raise the stakes. DIY MFA

Kharma Kelley explains all authors need to know about the new EU law.

Chris Winkle: storytelling’s terminology problem. Then, Oren Ashkenazi critiques six underdeveloped love interests. Mythcreants

Kim Fahner considers Canada’s 20th Bookmark to be a “love letter” to Sudbury. The Sudbury Star

And then watch the unveiling!

 

Emily Petsko lists 25 foreign words with hilarious literal meanings. Mental Floss

More fun with words: the Merriam-Webster time traveler. Check out what words entered the dictionary the year you were born … or any other year since 1828 🙂

And that was Tipsday for this week.

Be well until Thursday!

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, April 1-7, 2018

Were you looking for these? Your informal writerly learnings are here!

K.M. Weiland helps you decide between plain prose and beautiful prose. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jane Friedman returns to Writer Unboxed: a smarter author platform for the digital era of publishing.

Nathan Bransford offers a guide to social media for authors. Later in the week he offers tips on how to regain your concentration.

Emily Wenstrom explains how to use Twitter hashtags for writers. DIY MFA

Porter Anderson delves into author pay and publishing profits. And then, he looks at the success of Canada Reads as PBS announces a similar competition.

Valerie Francis joins Joanna Penn on The Creative Penn to discuss how to write a scene the Story Grid way.

Donald Maass takes a non-linear approach to middle scenes. Writer Unboxed

Sonja Yeorg is resurrecting a shelved manuscript. Writer Unboxed

Jo Eberhardt talks art and social change. It’s a ripping awesome post. Writer Unboxed

Tamar Sloan is deepening character complexity with the help of psychology. Writers Helping Writers

Angela Ackerman examines the destructive power of the lie your character believes. Writers Helping Writers

Jami Gold offers some suggestions to help you create a compelling, but quiet, black moment.

Heather Webb shares a writer’s lessons in failure. Writers in the Storm

Do the thing? Chuck Wendig offers a helpful (and hilarious) FAQ. Terribleminds

Kristen Lamb brings the LOLZ with her post on diagnosing the real writer.

Dheolos and Worldbuilding Magazine are creating a mountain setting. Mythcreants

Nina Munteanu explores how the women of The Expanse are changing our worldview.

Dan Koboldt is putting the science in your fiction. Writer’s Digest

And some writerly news from the north:

My friend and vice-president of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild Vera Constantineau is interviewed for The Northern Life about her new short story collection Daisy Chained.

Another friend and SWG member Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli announces pre-orders for her first novel, La Brigantessa, forthcoming from Inanna Publications this September.

And that was Tipsday.

Be well until Thoughty Thursday comes around to herald the weekend 🙂

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, March 4-10, 2018

Your informal writerly learnings for the week, gentle reader 🙂

Marisa de los Santos is writing through the rough parts. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass expounds on high drama and heroism. Writer Unboxed

Kathryn Craft: proving your protagonist has what it takes. Writer Unboxed

Jeanne Kisacky discusses the ups and downs of the supporters in a writer’s life: a well-deserved expression of gratitude. Writer Unboxed

The island of misfit characters. Where intriguing characters go when they’re … not quite right. Kathryn Magendie on Writer Unboxed.

James Scott Bell: garlic breath for writers (AKA bad first pages). Writers Helping Writers

Angela Ackerman explains how to raise the stakes by making is personal. Writers Helping Writers

A.K. Perry begins a new series on signpost scenes with the disturbance. DIY MFA

Elisabeth Kauffman answers a question about character motive in her new series, ask the editor. DIY MFA

Sierra Delarosa lists five grammar mistakes writers should avoid. DIY MFA

Peter Selgin guest posts on Jane Friedman’s blog: how your story’s opening foreshadows (intentionally or not) what’s to come.

L.L. Barkat, who bid farewell to blogging years ago on Jane Friedman’s blog, returns to explain why blogging may no longer be such a bad thing anymore.

Chuck Wendig responds to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s tweet defining art and entertainment. Terribleminds

Kristen Lamb: how story forges, defines, and refines character.

Julie Glover asks, are you sick and tired of editing your novel? Writers in the Storm

Oren Ashkenazi explains why the term “Mary Sue” should be retired. Mythcreants

Nina Munteanu says, write about what you know.

Sudbury Writers’ Guild member and vice-president Vera Constantineau is interviewed on Morning North about her new fiction collection, Daisy Chained. CBC

Nnedi Okorafor: science fiction that imagines a future Africa. TED Talks

Leah Schnelbach wonders, how could I forget the liberating weirdness of Madeleine L’Engle? Tor.com

Katy Waldman rereads A Wrinkle in Time after a childhood spent enthralled by Madeleine L’Engle. The New Yorker

Alison Flood reports that Shakespeare may have annotated his own source for Hamlet. The Guardian

Be well until Thursday, my friends!

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Feb 4-10, 2018

Here, once again, are your informal writerly learnings!

Jessi Rita Hoffman stops by Jane Friedman’s blog to help you prune hedge words and inflation words from your writing.

K.M. Weiland offers four tips for writing to your right audience. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jael McHenry: on commitments, participation, and the writing community. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass shows you what happens when worlds collide. Writer Unboxed

Nancy Johnson joins the Writer Unboxed team: the question your novel answers.

Gabriela Pereira takes her turn in the Writers Helping Writers coaching corner. Writing by design, part two: pattern and repetition.

Back on DIY MFA radio, Gabriela interviews Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi: understanding the emotional wound.

Kristen Lamb: great stories are addictive by design.

Janice Hardy offers seven tips for creating believable fantasy and science fiction worlds. Fiction University

Fae Rowan shares a simple tip to help get rid of saggy middles. [But … will it work on ma belleh—lol?] Writers in the Storm

Jami Gold looks at the editing process and what every writer needs to know to improve.

Backtracking a bit to give you episode 1 of Ask a Puppet (Mary Robinette Kowal). Seriously hilarious.

 

Mary Robinette Kowal shares her writing process in honor of her birthday.

Roz Morris shares three paradoxes of a slow writing process. Nail Your Novel

Chuck Wendig: yes, you can hiss without sibilance. Terribleminds

Breaking their usual pattern of constructive critique, Oren Ashkenazi reviews five novels with strong throughlines for Mythcreants.

Shane Koyczan – Resolution

 

Jessica Stillman: why you should surround yourself with more books than you’ll ever have time to read. Inc.

E CE Miller shares 21 love letters by authors to inspire you on Valentine’s Day. Bustle

Ryu Spaeth: an education through Earthsea. New Republic

Michael Blanding reports on how plagiarism software unveiled a new source for eleven of Shakespeare’s plays. And no, before the histrionics start, Shakespeare did not plagiarize. The New York Times

Jill Lepore explores the strange and twisted life of Frankenstein. Amazing. Truly. The New Yorker

Krista D. Ball revisits Joanna Russ’s “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” after 35 years. Thought-provoking and anger-inducing. Reddit r/fantasy

Jamil Smith writes about the revolutionary power of Black Panther. Time

I hope your week got off to a great start. Be well until Thursday 🙂

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 31, 2017 – Jan 6, 2018

Your informal writerly learnings of the week may be found below 🙂

K.M. Weiland: four life-changing New Year’s lessons for writers. Helping Writers Become Authors

Julie Glover wonders, what word will guide your writing life in 2018? Writers in the Storm

Jenny Hansen offers some essential writing advice as you begin the new year. Writers in the Storm

Tamar Sloan offers three powerful techniques to harness reader curiosity. Writers Helping Writers

Greer Macallister explains how to use the feedback you don’t get. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass gets legendary. Writer Unboxed

Anna Elliott offers some comfort about those stories that won’t let you go. Writer Unboxed

Jo Eberhardt: happy new goals! Writer Unboxed

Terri Frank lists the five g’s of getting libraries to buy your book. DIY MFA

K.T. Lynn: five ways to conquer deadline anxiety. DIY MFA

Kristen Lamb presents the success paradox: programmed to fail or fly?

Chris Winkle creates seven recipes for heroes winning desperate fights. Mythcreants

Oren Ashkenazi lists five behaviours fiction needs to stop demonizing. Mythcreants

Haley Mlotek is searching for the self-loathing woman author. Hazlitt

Tim Lott: why should we subsidise writers who have lost the plot? The Guardian

Stephen Marche co-authored a science fiction story with an algorithm and the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed him about it. Also featuring Sandra Kasturi of ChiZine publications and Daniel H. Wilson, author of Robopocalypse.

Mark Abadi shares 27 maps that show how English speakers differ across America. Business Insider

I sincerely hope you found something of use or entertainment in this curation.

Be well until Thursday!

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 3-9, 2017

Here’s your informal writerly learnings for the week 🙂

Autocrit offers five quick editing wins for December. NaNoWriMo Tumblr

Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary gives an agent’s take on NaNoWriMo.

Lance Schaubert writes a defence of spoilers. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass objects to the willing suspension of disbelief. Writer Unboxed

Lynne Griffin stops by Writer Unboxed. Dying to know, afraid to find out: building tension in fiction.

Allie Larkin is refilling the well. Writer Unboxed

Kathryn Magendie: the big ole scary monster at the window. Writer Unboxed

Sara Letourneau looks at identity as a theme in YA. DIY MFA

Brenda Joyce Patterson teaches you how to use small forms as steps to a novel. DIY MFA

Jonathan Vars: five tips for building tension into your scenes. DIY MFA

James Scott Bell visits the Writers Helping Writers coaching corner: ten ways to goose the muse.

Julie Glover wonders, what motivates you to finish? Writers in the Storm

Kristen Lamb says all wounds matter: writing better stories.

Jefferson Smith guest posts on Jami Gold’s blog: how can we improve our readers’ experience? Story immersion.

Author Amal El-Mohtar was detained for hours in customs because she was travelling to the States … even though she’s a Canadian citizen. CBC

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel lecture: my twentieth century evening and other small breakthroughs.

Steph Farnsworth: science fiction, speculative fiction, and the problem of imagination erasing race (featuring Nisi Shawl). Stand Up

Here is part one of Adam Fitzgerald’s interview with Samuel Delaney: don’t romanticize science fiction. Literary Hub

Kari Maaren writes through grief: unfinished. Tor.com

Stephanie Marchie describes what happened when she enlisted an algorithm to help her write the perfect piece of science fiction. Wired

Jess Zimmerman: when bad men define good art. Electric Lit

How we eclipse women’s literary brilliance with scandal. Sarah Seltzer for Jezebel.

Sarah Gailey: fear of the female voice. Tor.com

I hope this writerly goodness will sustain you through the week!

Be well until Thoughty Thursday.

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Oct 1-7, 2017

Here are your informal writerly learnings for the week!

This is October now … and so you know what those of us who do the crazy of NaNoWriMo are doing. Yup. NaNo prep (not to be confused with those other preppers). For the month of October, therefore, I will be posting lots of tasty NaNo prep materials, which can be pretty useful even if you don’t participate 🙂

K.M. Weiland assembles her complete guide to preparing for a successful NaNoWriMo. Helping Writers Become Authors

To help y’all prepare for NaNoWriMo, Janice Hardy’s running a 31 day novel workshop. Here’s the first instalment: brainstorming your idea. Day two: develop your hook. Day three: what’s driving your plot?  Day four: creating your characters. Day five: developing your protagonist. Day six: creating the novel’s conflict. Day seven: developing your antagonist.

Laura Highcove lists the pros and cons of NaNoWriMo. DIY MFA

Rachael Stephen continues preptober with how to be an early bird.


Laura Drake helps you find your perfect critique partner. Writers in the Storm

Kristen Lamb has a little tongue-in-cheek advice for you. Fun is for losers! If you aren’t miserable, you’re doing it wrong! Later in the week Kristen returns with 50 shades of butt-in-gear—the ultimate slacker’s guide to writing success.

Bryn Greenwood: haters gonna hate (but you don’t have to). Writer Unboxed

Writerly wisdom from Donald Maass: the world is inside out. Writer Unboxed

Jo Eberhardt encourages us to write like a girl. Writer Unboxed

Gabriela Pereira interviews Jodi Kendall for DIY MFA radio.

C.S. Lakin visits Writers Helping Writers: what’s the dark night moment all about?

Ari Ashkenazi: five ways David Weber built the Honorverse into an immersive world. Mythcreants

Even John Scalzi is having a challenging writing year. Whatever

Elizabeth Bear wonders, where are all the women? Tor.com

Terri Pous shares 17 bits of word nerd trivia. Buzzfeed

And that be it until Thursday, my writerly friends.

Be well until then!

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 3-9, 2017

Here are your informal writerly learnings for the first full week of September (!)

K.M. Weiland continues her most common writing mistakes with part 62: head-hopping POV. Helping Writers Become Authors

Colleen M. Story explains how your time personality influences your writing productivity. Writers in the Storm

Susan Spann explains the law (and ethics) of conference blogging. Writers in the Storm

James Scott Bell stops by the Writers Helping Writers coaches’ corner: using the novel journal to make writing breakthroughs.

Vaughn Roycroft is fortified by gratitude. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass muses on what makes a journey. Writer Unboxed

Here’s the second part of my exploration of The Hero’s Journey on DIY MFA.

Crash Course Mythology – The Hero’s Journey and the Monomyth. They do a really good job of illustrating how some of the stages of The Hero’s Journey are optional, or can be shifted 🙂

 

Leanne Sowul: it’s back to school time at DIY MFA—what do you want to learn?

Kristen Lamb explains why suffering is essential for great fiction.

Jeff Lyons returns to Jami Gold’s blog to bust the rest of the top ten writing myths.

Rachel Chaney is Dan Koboldt’s equine expert for this article: matching horses to use, climate, and characters in fiction.

And then, Judith Tarr contributed in praise of the hard-working fantasy horse to the Tor.com blog. What do these ladies have against Friesians, anyway?

Rebecca Solnit: if I were a man. The Guardian

Isabella Biedenharn: Libba Bray has some thoughts on this all-female Lord of the Flies remake. Entertainment Weekly

What growing up in the sulphur city taught me about beauty. Christine Schrum on the Latitude 46 blog.

Cat Rambo announces that games writers will be eligible for an award in the 2018 Nebulas. Geekwire podcast.

Tor.com presents Ursula K. Le Guin’s introduction to the Library of America’s The Hainish Novels & Stories, volume one.

OMG. Droughtlander’s almost over! Actually, the first ep will have aired by the time I post this. Still. OUTLANDER!

 

Ever think Gandalf was a dick? Well, so does Emily Asher-Perrin: five things Gandalf should have admitted instead of being a jerk. (ROFL-hilarious) Tor.com

So I went to WorldCon in August, eh? This happened. The Tea & Jeopardy live podcast taping with George R.R. (Really Really) Martin!

 

Enjoy, and be well until Thoughty Thursday!

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, July 2-8, 2017

It’s time for your dose on informal writerly learnings 🙂

K.M. Weiland continues her most common writing mistakes series with part 60: flat plots. Helping Writers Become Authors

Later in the week, Kate continues her series on the do’s and don’ts of storytelling according to Marvel with a look at Guardian of the Galaxy, volume 2: how to ace the first act in your sequel.

As a follow up to her last post on critiquing, Jane Friedman helps you recognize patterns in the way you respond to criticism.

Then, Gary Zenker guest posts on DIY MFA: a new approach to critique.

Larry Brooks stops by Writer Unboxed to discuss the big lie about writing compelling fiction.

As a follow up to Larry’s post, Anna Elliott asks, what’s your truth? Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass explores characters light and dark. Writer Unboxed

Parul Macdonald uncovers the world of a literary scout and international rights. Writer Unboxed

Abigail K. Perry joins the DIY MFA team: how to make you character descriptions do double duty.

Stacey B. Woodson shares five writing lessons from thriller master David Morrell. DIY MFA

Gabriela Pereira interviews Sarah Dessen for DIY MFA radio.

Marielle Orff shares five ways to get to know your characters better. DIY MFA

Emily Wenstrom offers some email marketing tips. The Write Life

Jami Gold gives us one simple trick to avoid the opening page infodump.

Janice Hardy continues her birth of a book series with testing the idea. Fiction University

Then, Janice visits Writers in the Storm: what do you want your readers to wonder about?

Chris Winkle covers five more dualities that can replace good and evil. Mythcreants

Bryan Hutchinson explains how to become a prolific writer while holding down a day job. Positive Writer

Sophie Playle: where is your budget for book editing best spent? Liminal Pages

Sarah Fox shares seven things editors wish authors knew. Well Storied

Jeremy Szal shares his tips for writing a successful query letter. Fantasy Faction

Caroline Leavitt: when the writing mentor becomes the mentee. The Millions

Anne Lamott: 12 truths I learned about life and writing. TED Talks

Jarred MGuiness says writing is the only magic he still believes in. TEDxEaling

 

Folklore Thursday takes a look at how iron became the enemy of the fairy folk.

Shane Koyczan: the weather.

 

And that is how we Tipsday.

See you on Thursday for some mental corn popping thoughty.

Be well until then!

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Story Masters: May 11-14, 2017

This lovely workshop came to my attention last year through Jenny Madore, a writer friend. It was put together by Lorin Oberweger and Free Expressions. Jenny sent me a notice last spring, yes, that was waaaay back in March of 2016, with the notification and a special early-bird discount.

The notification? Christopher Vogler, James Scott Bell, and Donald Maass would be coming to Toronto to present their Story Masters workshop. Needless to say, I registered on the spot.

Fast forward to May 10, 2017, and I was on my way to the Crowne Plaza Airport and excited to learn from these three masters of story.

Day one: Christopher Vogler

ChristopherVoglerI’ve read The Writer’s Journey (and Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey and The Hero’s Daughter, as well as watching Campbell’s series with Bill Moyer, The Power of Myth), and I was looking forward to meeting Christopher Vogler in person.

One thing I’d forgotten, having read his book years ago, was that Vogler is a screenwriter. He’s been working with the hero’s journey for forty years, since his film school days.

Highlights of the presentation:

  • A knowledge of structure will help you see the bones of a story.
  • The map is not the journey.
  • Get all five senses on the page – Ray Bradbury.
  • They won’t remember your words but they’ll remember how you made them feel – Maya Angelou.
  • Economy of language.
  • Make invisible things visible.
  • Use dissonance.
  • Theme – boil it down to one word.
  • The chakra system can be used to orient where your story comes from. There’s a parallel between the chakras and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
  • Vogler’s rule – the story’s good if two or more organs are leaking fluids. Visceral, but accurate (blood, sweat, tears, vomit, pee—from fear or laughter, and, erm, sexual fluids—it’s true; a well-written sex scene gets the juices flowing, doesn’t it?).
  • A story should be focused, “in alignment with the grid,” a term from dance.
  • How your protagonist/main character enters the story is critical. Classically, protagonist means the first person to struggle. Now, that’s your hero or main character.
  • A story should evoke catharsis. The classical definition of catharsis was vomiting. Now it’s an emotional cleansing.
  • How stories work: want vs. need. Want is generally external or physical. Need is internal or emotional. There are two story questions, one inner and one outer. It creates suspense. There’s always a price.
  • Every world/milieu is polarized. The hero brings synthesis.

Vogler also showed us a number of movie clips to illustrate the 12 stages of the hero’s journey, discussed the two founders of screenwriting, Aristotle and Syd Field, three-act structure and how the hero’s journey works with it, storytelling aesthetics, and his own meeting with Campbell.

Day two: James Scott Bell

I’ve read some of Bell’s writing craft books and followed his collective/blog – Kill Zone. Again, I was looking forward to meeting JamesScottBellsomeone I’d only ever known as a virtual presence.

  • A writer needs to have an edge. What is it? Unforgettable writing. Seductive believability.
  • Write from the middle. The mirror moment. What’s happening to the character at that moment is what the story’s about.
  • The mirror moment can focus on one of two things: 1) Who am I? What have I become? What will I become? [emotional/spiritual struggle] Or, 2) I’m going to die. [Physical] The death can be metaphorical. Both result in the transformation of your character.
  • Once you know what your story’s about, you have your focus, your theme.
  • Pre-story psychology. Does your character have a moral flaw to overcome? Do they change or get their comeuppance? Is your character ordinary? What circumstances force the character to change?
  • Short fiction is about a shattering moment rather than a mirror moment.
  • Bell’s golden triangle: pre-story psychology leads to the mirror moment, which leads to the transformation. It can be applied in an individual novel, or over the course of the series, or both.
  • The shadow story – what’s happening elsewhere?
  • Keep a story journal to keep track.
  • Great characters jump off the page. They’re unpredictable, burning, wounded, complex, resourceful, courageous, noble.
  • Bell’s corollary to Vogler’s rule: you must have a fluid fight inside your character.
  • Ways to develop character: 1) The closet search – what’s the skeleton? 2) Throwing the chair (out the window) – why do they do it? 3) Best day/worst day. 4) What tattoo do they have, where, and why? Or, why would they never get a tattoo? 5) what would they do or think about in jail?
  • Opposition character: you must know what they yearn for, why they deserve it, and then make your closing argument (convince the reader).
  • Cut the boring parts, or, make them interesting.
  • Fear is a continuum. It raises the stakes. Fear of the known. Fear of the unknown.
  • Scene structure: every scene must have an objective, obstacles, and an outcome [yes, but/no, and].
  • SUES = something unexpected in every scene.
  • Every scene has a reaction: time for thought, perception, emotion, backflash (short remembrance), or flashback (full scene – use sparingly).
  • Dialogue: every character has an agenda. If those agendas are conflicting, even better. Dialogue creates conflict/tension, subtext, sets the tone for the scene, and sets the tone for the characters. Specific concerns: vocabulary, expressions, syntax. They should vary between characters. Dialogue should be unpredictable and compressed. Dialogue should reveal character webs, backstory, and theme.
  • Tools: Orchestration, transactional analysis (Google it), curve the language.

Bell, also from a screenwriting background, showed us clips from Casablanca and Now, Voyager and cited a number of novels (ranging from Gone with the Wind to The Hunger Games) to illustrate his points, linked to Vogler’s hero’s journey, and set us up for Donald Maass’s presentation on the next day.

Day three: Donald Maass

DonaldMaassI think Donald Maass was the story master I was most excited to meet. I’ve bought and read all of his books (except The Emotional Craft of Fiction, which I bought at the event), and I’ve read and shared all of his Writer Unboxed contributions.

I’m such a fan that when I met him in the elevator, I blurted out, “I’m here to see you!” like a total fangirl.

He paused. “Do I know you? You look familiar …”

“We’ve never met in person, but you may have seen me online—the white hair’s distinctive. I share all of your posts. I’m a big fan.” And then, mercifully, we reached the lobby and debarked. I was completely mortified, certain Maass thought I was a stalker.

It reminded me of a recent post by my friend, Kim, who said she becomes so distracted in the presence of a writer that she says the most inappropriate things. Happens to me all the time.

For those of you who haven’t been to a Donald Maass presentation, it’s a bit different from what you might expect. He presents a topic, speaks briefly, and then, he begins to ask questions. The questions are intended to guide you into the heart of your characters, your scenes, your story.

It’s very meditative, very zen. And totally effective.

Unfortunately, after a few hours, the brain stops working and you just write down the questions for future review and examination. At least, that’s what happened to my brain.

I just wanted to give you a flavour of Maass’s style.

Openings

  • Too many novel openings are written objectively despite the prevalence of first and close third person narration.
  • Where does the story truly begin?
  • Story does not equal plot.
  • What’s different and how does your protagonist know things will never be the same? What symbolizes this? What do they do differently? What needs to be explained? What expertise does your protagonist have? What do they know that the reader needs to know? How does the trouble come? Why?

Voice

  • Writers adopt a voice that suits the genre, but not the story.
  • What happens? What’s unique to the setting? What anchors you? What wakes you up to your reality? What’s unique to the character? Name, role/occupation, what task/goal/purpose do they think they have? What’s on the “to do” list of your character?
  • [We then did an exercise in which we rewrote the beginning of our works in progress with three different voices: ironic, academic, and spiritual.]
  • The inner life of the character is the true story.
  • Plot does not equal story.

Emotion

  • You have to write with emotion about emotion in a way that deeply engages readers.
  • What makes you angry?
  • Your protagonist feels a new emotion. Pause. Slow things down. Go deeper. How does that change your protagonist? What will they never do again? What will they never feel again? What will they never feel the same way about again?
  • How do you create the sense of an evolving human being rather than someone to whom stuff happens?
  • Does your character have flaws?
  • My Writer Unboxed colleague Lisa Cron wrote a book called Story Genius that I highly recommend. She states every character has a misbelief that shapes their story. What is your character’s misbelief? Who will be hurt because of their misbelief? What does the character get wrong? What do they believe that will cost them dearly? Who will walk away from them because of the misbelief? What will they lose? What can they do that shows they’ve changed? Is it big? Symbolic? What’s the secret they’ve never told anyone? Is your protagonist concealing something from someone else?
  • What’s the character’s origin story?

Other facets of novel construction

  • Summary. Lorin Oberweger posted on Writer Unboxed about this. When should you use it?
  • Scene structure. Things have changed by the end of the scene. Subvert expectations. Show the inner shift in the novel. Scenes must change either the plot or the character.
  • Enhancing the story world. What’s the environment? What does your protagonist see that no one else sees? What does your antagonist see? Is there a class structure? How does that play out with your characters? What historical events have shaped the world? What are the political structures? What is just not done? Is there a code of honour? How do you make a deal? How do you pay respect?
  • Telling and showing. Both have value.

What do readers want?

  • They want an emotional experience. They want to engage with your protagonist. They want a satisfying payoff. They want aesthetic value. They want a challenge. They want to figure it out. They want a feeling of success.
  • Readers have their own journey.

Third level emotion

  • Pick a pivotal scene in your novel. What is the character feeling? What else are they feeling (cancel out any similar emotions)? And again, what else (that is like neither of the first two)?
  • Use the third emotion you identify to frame the character in the scene. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s very effective. Readers use cognitive evaluation.

Mythic roles (archetypes)

  • What fairy tale character is your protagonist most like? Shakespearean? Biblical? Greek or Roman mythos? Indigenous or other cultural figure? Urban legend?
  • What symbology have you built around your character?

The four things your story must do

  • The macro level: structure/plot/character arc.
  • Scene level: structure and goals.
  • Microtension: every page, every line. Court cognitive dissonance.
  • Subvert reader expectations.

The big event

  • Think of the event that changes everything for your protagonist and the story world. What causes people to think it’s never going to happen? Think of three reasons why. How do we know it will happen? Think of three reasons.
  • Take out foreshadowing. Include misdirection. Manipulate expectations.
  • Choose a secondary character who is good. Invent a way to create doubt. Cast suspicion.
  • Make the reader wait for the payoff. What are three reasons it might be the wrong thing for your protagonist to do? Build a case for doing something different.
  • Every story has a moral map. Point the reader down the path. What makes a reader care even when nothing is happening? Hope. What is good? What can be saved?

StoryMasters

Day four was an analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird in which all three story masters brought their individual strengths to bear.

My brain was mush by the end, but I brought a lot of awesome back with me and twice as many pages of notes as what I’ve shared with you here.

RobertJSawyerOther writerly goodness: I met Jenny Madore in person, saw writer friends Jeanette Winsor and Sue Reynolds, and hung out with Robert J. Sawyer for a bit. It was comforting to know that someone I consider a story master in his own right is still learning 🙂

I had a fabulous time and suggest you check out the Free Expressions web site if you’re interested in attending one of their workshops.

As always, my friends, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Muse-inks