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

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The next chapter: July 2016 update

So, here we are again at a monthly update. August. Where has the year gone?

One of the great things about tracking your production (and this applies to all things, not just writing) is that you can look back and see the evidence of your work. It’s very comforting.

In addition to wrapping up my work in July this time, I’m going to review the year to date.

July

JulyProgress

This month, I finished my first review of Gerod and the Lions. As with the last couple of novels, I wasn’t twitching as I reread, reacquainted myself with the story, and worked on some of the flow issues I saw. One reason for the flow issues was that GatL was written in chunks, separated by work done on other projects.

Sometimes the gaps were months long, and it shows. I had to get my head back into Gerod’s world and each time I returned to it, it took a few days to recapture the feeling.

The draft comes in at 44,996 words, which is decent for a middle grade book and 124% of my revision goal for the month.

I also continued work on the short story, which I’ll be submitting for consideration soon. 2,615 words written on that.

And, of course, there was the blog, and since I continued to participate in the weekly challenges presented by Gabriela Pereira to her DIYMFA Street Team, I far outblogged my goal.

Between the short story and the blog, I wrote 173% of my goal for July.

I also had the pleasure of guest blogging a couple of times in July, once on Mel’s Madness, and later, on DIYMFA (holy cow!). I have another guest blog due out this month on Kristene Perron’s Warp World blog.

I continued querying.

Year-to-date

Please keep in mind that revision is a very different animal than writing. I’m not writing all these words from scratch. I’m rearranging words, rewriting sentences or paragraphs for flow, inserting or removing punctuation, and making notes for future revisions.

Writing equates to original words.

Month Revision Writing Projects
January 69,774 words 186% of goal 9,274 words 141% of goal Apprentice of Wind, blog
February 40,708 words 108% of goal 5,027 words 90% of goal Apprentice of Wind, blog
March 66,637 words 177% of goal 8,436 words 141% of goal AoW, Figments, Marushka, blog
April 37,478 words 100% of goal 10,498 words 187% of goal Marushka, blog
May 50,882 words 136% of goal 10,474 words 181% of goal Marushka, Reality Bomb, blog
June 48,009 words 128% of goal 12,013 words 207% of goal Reality Bomb, blog
July 46,656 words 124% of goal 11,387 words 173% of goal RB, Gerod and the Lions, short fiction, blog

 Now and the rest of the year

With GatL, I’ve finished reviewing all of my drafted novels. Many of them are still grossly underwritten, but at least I have a better idea now of where I’m going with each.

For August, I just finished up my short story, which I will now revise, and otherwise, the only writing I’m doing is on the blog.

I’ve taken some time off to consider the remainder of the year and what I want to do.

Under consideration are:

  • Assembling a poetry collection (going to submit to a local small press) – August
  • Organizing a collection of my non-SFF short fiction (again, targeted at the small publisher) – August
  • Outlining the third book in my epic fantasy series. I’ve already taken a shot at it, but I know I have to rework it. I’ll do this anyway, because it’s this year’s NaNoWriMo project, but it’s on the list. – concurrent with other projects through to the end of October
  • Returning to Initiate of Stone and AoW, to recapture the voice of the series and bring everything into line in light of the outlining and NaNo for the third book. I want to get to November steeped in the world and its characters. – September and October

Because the third in series is of the epic nature, I expect to be continuing the drafting well into December.

I’m also taking a bit of time to think out how I want to structure my writing year from here on out. Previous to 2016, my focus was on getting the words down. Great, but then I had six novels drafted, only one of which was ready for querying.

This year, I’m focusing on the revision of all those drafts. They won’t be completely ready to go, but I’ll be in a place where I can alternate writing and revision in the coming years.

I want to draft new work twice a year, and then work on revision in between. I don’t know exactly what form that’s going to take (except for NaNo), but I think it’s something I can do.

Other stuff

I’m heading out to WorldCon/MidAmeriCon II on the 17th. It will be my first big con, so I’m super excited. This will be my last convention or conference for the year, though. I’ve blown my budget.

As a result, though, I’m going on a blogging vacay. I’ll schedule my Thoughty Thursday curation for the 18th before I leave, but you won’t hear from me again until I’m back and recovered and ready to resume bloggage on the 27th. Sacrifices have to be made.

I’ve done the crazy and applied for Brenda Drake’s #PitchWars. I’ll find out how that goes on the 25th. Not saying more about it for now.

I’m investigating partnerships with an editor. I want something long term, a professional editor who can help me get my drafts into publishable states.

I signed up for a first five pages workshop with NLA. Again, I’ll leave the deets for later.

And that’s this writer’s life.

Next weekend, I’ll be continuing with my CWS 2016 reportage with my notes from the Writing Hard Truths panel.

The Next Chapter

CanCon 2015, day 1: Ecology and story workshop with Nina Munteanu

It took us a little longer to drive to Ottawa than I thought, so I was late for this workshop. My apologies to Nina and to any of my readers who experience confusion as a result. If you think there’s something missing, you’re probably right 🙂

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Overlapping ecosystems are vibrant.

Ecologists ask why and how.

  • Why do species eat this food and not that one?
  • How do the environment, other species, diet, etc. limit population growth?

Adaptive traits:

  • Mimicry
  • Camouflage

Autotrophs (producers – species which produce their own food)

Phototrophs (produce food from light)

The Bracken Fern. Ubiquitous. Found on every continent except Antarctica. Very successful. Carcinogenic. Breaks down vitamin B. Reproduces by both spores and rhizomes.

Fiddleheads contain cyanide. Aggressive symbiosis. They attract ants which in turn defend it against other predators (peonies do this, too, though they don’t contain cyanide).

Nothing else will grow in a hemlock grove. It kills all potentially competitive species.

Some primates live with viruses that cause disease in other species because the monkey is the virus’s ‘ideal’ host. (Mel’s note: I think this was a digression into other forms of symbiosis–monkeys aren’t phototrophs.)

Chemotrophs (produce food from chemical processes)

Heterotrophs (consumers and decomposers, including us)

Parasites

Saprotrophs – fungi and bacteria

Detrivores – insects and earthworms

Lynn Margulis proposed the Gaia hypothesis and symbiogenesis (Google search for more information).

Endosymbiosis – cooperative adaptation.

Darwin’s theory of competition (survival of the fittest) is incomplete. It doesn’t explain altruism.

Symbiosis leads to happiness.

  • Kin selection – the choice to support the reproductive group including sacrifice for the greater good (heroism).
  • Group selection – the choice to limit population growth in favour of x (where x is more food, habitat, etc. for all).
  • Reciprocal altruism – The vampire bat, for example. All hunters may not be successful, but the successful hunters will share their food with the unsuccessful and with mothers/pups (by regurgitation) to ensure the continued strength of the community.
  • True altruism – Dolphins will help humans and other species for no apparent gain. (Mel’s note: they may also rape their own and other species for no apparent reason, but that’s another story.)
  • Communal feeding – Lions in prides.
  • Satellites – In some frog species, the small males will hang out with the big, noisy ones and ‘head off’ the eligible females attracted by their big, noisy brethren.
  • Niche partitioning – competing species that coexist in the same ecosystem by voluntarily partitioning food, habitat, etc..

Adaptation and extremophiles

The brine shrimp of Mono Lake (California) thrive in inland seas with salinity that kills potential predators. They can also survive being dried out.

There are flies that can swim and dive because they carry their own oxygen supplies in air bubbles.

There are bacteria that feed on sulphur.

The Microbes of Lake Untersee in Antarctica live in a super alkaline environment with lots of dissolved methane in the water. They create stromatolites—the largest ever found anywhere.

Bacteria in the Rio Tinto thrive in extreme acidity and high iron content in the water.

The fungi of Chernobyl feed on high levels of radioactivity.

The Atacama Salt Flats in Chile is the most arid desert in the world, yet hypolithic algae have evolved to thrive where no other plant life can.

Tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets) can survive anywhere, even in space (for approximately ten days). They can be revived after a century of desiccation and endure 1000 times the lethal dose of radiation for a human. Technically, they’re not true extremophiles because they have not adapted to prefer, or thrive in these environments. They merely survive.

 

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The rest of the workshop was taken up by an exercise in which we applied ecology to the characters of our stories. How have our protagonists adapted to thrive in adverse conditions, compete against, or mimic, other characters, to become the heroes of our stories? In what ways do they show altruism, and is it true altruism, or another form? How does the unique environment of the story world affect them?

It was a very interesting workshop and I’m sorry to have missed the beginning of it.

Unfortunately, because of my late arrival, I did not get a picture of Nina or the workshop participants.

It was a good start to a great weekend of panels, though.

Come back next Saturday when the CanCon 2015 reportage continues with advice on pitching your novel.

Ad Astra 2015 wrap post

There are many reasons to love Ad Astra.

It’s enough of a fan con to have a masquerade ball, cosplay, a lego salon, and an anime screening room, but enough of a reader/writer con to have workshops (writing, costume construction, and more), excellent panels for professional development (writing craft, business, research, and fan-based discussions), readings, and great opportunities to network with other authors and industry professionals.

The Guest of Honour Brunch: you get to eat good food and go all fangirl (or –boy) sitting with one of your favourite authors, editors, or agents.

Aside from the con suite, there’s an entire floor of the hotel devoted to special events, book launches, and special interest parties.

There is an art salon as well as the dealers’ room, so you can always find something on which to spend your non-existent disposable income 😛

Astronomy in the parking lot. Need I say more?

It’s local (a four-hour drive for me), and so I don’t have to incur the expense of air fare.

Because it’s a convention, the registration fee is extremely reasonable.

So, I have enough money to feed my book addiction 🙂

Books - swag and purchased

Mind you, this year, I got almost as many free books as I bought.

I would highly recommend that any genre author attend at least one convention. Try it out and see if you like it. I get a lot of value out of my attendance and some encouragement to try new and different conferences and conventions.

Next year, I may even try to get on a few Ad Astra panels myself.

This will be the end of reporting until Can-Con in October. This will be a new convention experience for me, so look forward to lots of Writerly Goodness in the fall.

Up next: The next chapter.

How to get published with Madeleine Callway and Wordstock Sudbury 2015

I know I’m a little tardy with this report, but after spending the day at Wordstock on Saturday, I was exhausted, and returning to work on Tuesday, so forgive me, but I’m not going to apologize outright.

So first up is Madeleine Harris-Callway’s “How to get published” workshop which took place on June 18.

To Madeleine, there are three main components: confidence, commitment, and courage. Her presentation focused on the traditional publishing industry because that’s where she’s had her experience and her success.

After introducing the group to her experience and to the state of publishing today, we moved onto the three C’s of publishing success.

I’ll go over each component in a little more detail below:

Confidence

Perfect your writing skills.

  1. Formal learning
  • Creative writing courses at universities and colleges.
    Cambrian College: The Essentials of Writing Fiction
    Correspondence courses: e.g. Humber College, Toronto
  • Writing workshops by established teachers.
    Brian Henry – Quick Brown Fox
  • Workshops and panels by published authors.
    Literary festivals
    Authors associations
    Public libraries
  1. Feedback on your work
  • Critique groups are essential to success
    Join and existing group, or form your own.
    Consider manuscript evaluation services or freelance editors
    Find them through professional associations or writing conferences.
    Explore mentoring programs
    Find them through professional associations, universities or colleges, or make a private agreement with an established author.
  1. Grow into a novel
  • Write short fiction first for magazines or anthologies
    Start a blog
  1. Writing awards and contests
  • An excellent way to get recognition for your writing
    Short story competitions
    Unpublished novel contests

Commitment

  1. Just write
  • Every day
    Use the ten minute rule (even if you don’t feel like it, try writing for 10 minutes – if you still want to stop, then stop)
    Critique groups provide motivation
  1. Network
  • Join writing associations
    Stay in touch with writers you’ve met
    Attend book launches
    Local author readings
    Attend literary festivals and conferences
  1. Social Media
  • Join online literary groups
    Connect to other writers through Facebook and Twitter
    Subscribe to online writing publications
    Join literary sites (e.g. Goodreads)

Courage

  1. Rejection is the norm
  2. Take heart – even famous authors were rejected
  3. Use strategy
  • Contact publishers in your genre only
    Study their websites
    Follow their submission guidelines to the letter
  • Edit your queries and proposals – eliminate typos and formatting mistakes
  • Multiple submissions are fine
    Follow up
  • Find an agent
    Study their websites
    Follow their submission guidelines to the letter
    Attend pitches at writing conferences
  • Consider small publishers
  • Consider epublishers

Then, Madeleine ended the evening with a Q&A session.

Having organized the session, I forgot to take pictures 😦

Wordstock Sudbury 2015

This was only the second edition of the festival, but the organizers made a number of improvements.

Friday night began with a reception at the Speakeasy, followed by the announcement of the Youth Writing Contest winners and “An evening with Terry Fallis and Sandra Shamas.”

Saturday started early with book table set up and the organization of the two venues for the workshops and panels at Sudbury Secondary School. Over at the Greater Sudbury Public Library, Danielle Daniel held a children’s story time.

As of 10:30 am, the workshops and panels began and continued right through until 5:15 pm. I’ll let you read the program on their web site to get the details if you wish.

Madeleine Callway readingI participated in the author readings at noon, attended the genre fiction panel at 1 pm, volunteered at the indie book table until 4 pm, and then caught the graphic novel panel.

After we closed up the book table, the venue moved to the Motley Kitchen at 6 pm for a dinner and performance by Corin Raymond, back to Sudbury Secondary for Cheryl Cecchetto’s book launch, and finally back to the Motley Kitchen for Spoken Word After Dark.

It was a busy day. Hence the tired.

Wordstock Sudbury 2015 was a success, in my opinion, but it has room to develop and grow as a literary festival.

I’m looking forward to the next iteration.

Genre Panel

Graphic Novel Panel

Up next: I’m getting miscellaneous.

Crafting the contemporary genre novel with Jane Ann McLachlan

It’s been a busy weekend for Jane Ann.

After a reading and book signing in southern Ontario Friday night, Jane Ann drove up to Sudbury for a book signing at Chapters.

I went out to visit her, say hi, and meet her daughter, Amanda.

Attracting a new reader

Of course, I have to buy some books as well <chagrin face>.

Jane Ann did well signing and selling 11 copies of The Occasional Diamond Thief, and practicing her schmooze 🙂

Today, she delivered a workshop on crafting the contemporary genre novel.

She started off with some resources.

Her top five blogs for writers:

Her top five writing craft books:

Her top five pieces of advice for beginning writers:

  1. Try writing poetry as well as prose,
  2. Read across genres and analyse what you read (the same goes for movies),
  3. Learn grammar and spelling; these are the tools of your trade,
  4. Join a critique group, and
  5. Think beyond the cliché.

Then, she asked us to provide the top five elements of a good story:

  • Conflict
  • Character
  • Goals
  • Stakes
  • Difficult obstacles

Then, Jane Ann discussed the story idea, which must contain,

  1. a universal theme
  2. an inherent conflict
  3. a perennial premise, which you have twisted to make it unique to your story
  4. gut-level emotional appeal

It should be stated in the following form: What if (protagonist) in (setting/situation) had (problem)?

The discussion progressed to world building and the inevitable research that must take place to make the story world believable, even if the setting is contemporary.

The caveat is that, having done all this research, the writer must then resist the temptation to display all this knowledge in the text of the novel. It’s called info-dumping.

Every story has to have compelling characters who have strong, clear wants and desires. We did another writing exercise, in which we defined our protagonists. Jane Ann advised that this process should be repeated with each of the main characters in the novel, including the antagonist.

We then looked at point of view (POV) and tense, and the considerations writers need to take into account when deciding whether their stories should be told in first person, present tense, as many young adult novels are written, or in deep third person, past, as many adult novels are written.

There was another exercise in identifying lapses in POV that was quite interesting.

Finally, Jane Ann shared with us her outline for novel writing, as well as a couple of other templates that could be used. She confessed to being on the pantsing side of writing, but that she’s never started writing a novel unless she had a clear idea of what the main plot points were.

At the workshop

Then, there was a drawing for two bottles of The Occasional Diamond Thief wine, books were bought, and a brief Q&A ensued where other issues were discussed as time allowed.

Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in the activities and making notes . . . I forgot to take more pictures 😦

Overall, it was a great afternoon, but I think Jane Ann will be happy to get home and put her feet up 🙂 She’s one busy writer, promoting the heck out of her novel.

Sundog snippet: Miscellaneous stuff

‘Cause we all need miscellaneous stuff. Am I right?

The acting consultant position ended, I returned to my substantive position for two blissful weeks, and now I’m on leave.

My main writing-related goal was to prepare and send off my query package, but I’m behind (no surprise there). I’m still finishing up the latest round of revisions, but I hope to have them done soon(ish).

I’ve also offered to help a couple of visiting writers set up workshops while they’re in town over the next several weeks.

Jane Ann McLachlan will be up for the weekend of May 30 and 31. She’ll be doing a book signing at Chapters from 2-4 pm on the Saturday afternoon and then, on the Sunday, from 1:30-3:30 pm at the Older Adult Centre (in the YMCA on Durham), she’ll be delivering a workshop on Crafting the Contemporary Genre Novel.

JAMcLachlan

I’ll save the second workshop and event details for my monthly update.

Other than that, I’m going to conduct a bit of spring cleaning around the house, and hopefully get a couple of long-outstanding projects done.

The rainbows!Not as impressive as the real thing

I’ve cleaned up my office, including the windows and my variety of prisms in the window. Though the pictures don’t do it justice, I now have rainbows dancing about the room as soon as the sun comes around. They even shine down the hall and into the kitchen 🙂

Guardians of the DeskMy druid

Just thought I’d show you the few things I have on my desk. The gargoyle is there to chase away distractions. The miniature is a hold over from my gaming days. This was my druid. I painted her myself, replete with ink washes, dry-brushing, and enough lacquer to protect her for over twenty years 😉

HeartShapedStone

Phil and I found this heart shaped rock in the back yard. I don’t know why, but I like it. So it’s on my desk.

I also have to have plants. My African violets appear to be happy. This year, I’ve added an orchid to the mix and it seems to like the spot, too.

violetsorchid

I’ve decided not to travel for this batch of leave, since the true purpose of it is to rest and rejuvenate so I can return to work and not feel that it’s the last place I want to be.

The driveway and yard are still a mess. The remediation of Regent Street has begun (soil and sod, prepping the storm drains for the final layer of pavement) but since our property requires some extensive work, a few things have had to be organized first.

We’re supposed to have a sewer line inspection done in the near future. The city engineer visited and suggested that in might be more economical to insert a “sleeve” into the old sewer pipe than to dig it up and replace it. We’re hoping that’s possible, but will have to wait on the results of the video inspection.

The retaining wall has to be finished, the railing erected, and our front entry rebuilt. Even though they’d taken the old set of stairs and moved them into the back yard, we can’t use them again. The bottom step would lead people off the end of the retaining wall (!)

The new steps will run around the corner of the house and into what is now a garden. I’ll have to find a new place for all my plants.

Depending on whether we can get away with an insert into the sewer pipe, or have to dig up and replace the line, we my have enough money to ask the sub-contractor who builds the front stairs to build the side entry as well. If not, we may rebuild it ourselves, but we wouldn’t be looking forward to the work.

The drive will be repaved when the retaining wall is finished.

So there are a number of dominoes that have to fall into place for things to actually proceed.

In the back yard, Phil has dismantled the old front steps and, along with the pressure-treated lumber salvaged from my mom’s deck replacement last year, he’ll be using the bits and pieces to enclose our patio, back fill with stone and gravel, and we’ll finally get to use the space again.

I’m so looking forward to having my summer office again. I didn’t get to use it at all last year.

I’ll be moving the plants from the garden by the house into the gardens around the patio. Now that the birches have been removed, there’s enough sun for the plants to thrive.

Bucket has now . . . kicked the bucket. The repairs necessary to keep her on the road were beyond Phil and we made the decision to count his purchase as a poor investment and cut our losses.

A farewell to bucketBuh-bye, la!

He is, of course, on the hunt for a new(er) truck, but will wait to see how much we might be investing in the sewer pipe lining/replacement before we commit to spending more.

Nuala is doing well. We continue to take her in for the occasional glucose curve, but her diabetes seems to be managed, and her other health issues well in hand. She just turned 10 this year.

NualaMay

And that’s about all I can tell you about this writer’s life at the moment.

Sundog snippet

Ad Astra 2015 day 1: Arrival and Julie Czerneda workshop

The Ad Astra 2015 reportage starts now!

This year, I managed to find the Sheraton without too much difficulty (yay me). I can be Google Maps challenged at the most inconvenient times, especially when GM wants to send me on the 407 (I am toll route averse) or tells me to pull a u-turn when I don’t see the need for it 😛

Still, I just—just—got checked in to my room in time to run back down and into the workshop.

Julie Czerneda’s workshop was entitled It only hurts when I write: Destroying your story gremlins.

After a brief round of introductions, we got to work. Julie asked us to work in pairs and assigned us a series of writing tasks. The focus on the workshop was to solve the gremlins that many writers experience. The main gremlin was the blank page, or not knowing what to write/how to come up with story ideas.*

  1. Using a grid, storyboard a plot with a beginning, middle, and end (plot emphasis).
  2. Using a grid and a character card prompt, storyboard a plot with a beginning, middle, and an end (character emphasis).

After each exercise, each group shared the results of their efforts.

There was a brief break and then we reconvened for the second half of the workshop.

In the second half, Julie handed out a story worksheet to each pair. We were to fill out the worksheet with the following information: Story idea, Protagonist, Setting, Type of story, Format of story, Readership for this story, and what Feeling we wanted the reader to respond with.

Once the worksheet was completed, Julie handed out cards that added completely random items to the story. My partner and I received these three: What this story needs is a cat; Add an hilarious death; and Rewrite as a comedy.

Considering that I’d elected to fill out the worksheet using my main WIP, Initiate of Stone, a darkish epic fantasy, the cards actually threw three rather large wrenches into the gears.

The point of these wrenches was to concretely prove that we can change our stories, sometimes to good effect, on a dime and at the request of someone else. It teaches you to relinquish control, release from attachment, and may serve you well if/when an editor wants you to make changes your story.

It was a bit of a light bulb moment for me. I learned that I had, to a degree, achieved a certain amount of detachment from IoS. It’s a novel, not one of my vital organs.

Though I think if anyone actually asked me to rewrite IoS as a comedy, I would refuse. Categorically, even.

Overall, it was an enjoyable workshop.

Julie Czerneda

*I walked into the workshop thinking that we were going to be working with our actual story gremlins, as in the problems we are experiencing with our WIPs. It took me a few minutes to get over my disappointment that I was not going to get help with the opening of IoS. I was motivated, as ever, to learn, though, and so I did 🙂

There you have it.

Next week: Deconstructing tropes 🙂 Yes, we had all the fun! Really. I like this kind of thing 🙂

Bits and pieces

A.K.A. catching up on a bunch of stuff.

First of all, happy Valentine’s Day, to all of you lovely people out there!

Work

They say you’re not learning unless you’re failing. I must be learning BIG TIME at work these days.

That’s all I’m going to day about that.

Spirit

On February 1st, St. Brigid’s Day, or Imbolc, I attended Wooing the Soul, a day-long workshop and storytelling session intended to help women connect with their inner goddess. I enjoyed the storytelling, which was based on The Wooing of Etain. We danced, we sang, we invoked the spirit of Brigid, saint and goddess, and we shared food and experience.

I reconnected with a few friends whose circles I’ve moved away from in the past years.

While it was a good day, I found it was a bit long. I kept finding myself thinking, I could be writing, which is, incidentally, how I connect with my inner goddess. It’s a problem I have. Instead of talking about something, or listening to others talk about it, I’d rather be doing it 😛

I won’t write more about the day because others have done a better job than I could, namely, my friend Kim Fahner on her Republic of Poetry blog, and the facilitator herself, Ann Kathleen McLaughlin, on her blog, SophiAwakens.

Training of a different sort

On February 3rd, I delivered a workshop on getting published for the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) as part of their Arts Intensive art education week.

I haven’t delivered a creative workshop in some time and I was looking forward to it. I’d love the opportunity to do more of these in the future. *hint, hint, universe*

I was far more nervous than I usually am before a training gig, which is to say I was a bit of a wreck, but the class was an intimate group.

The workshop was only two hours, and I had trouble keeping things on track, because the training I deliver for work is rarely less than a day. It wasn’t too bad, however, as the class was largely not at the querying stage yet, so the fact that I wasn’t able to discuss that aspect of getting published at length wasn’t a huge issue.

I also shared my notes and PowerPoint after the class, so everyone received all the bits I wasn’t able to discuss at length in the class.

I’m quite happy with how things turned out.

There are always lessons learned attached to any learning event, though, and I’ve got those tucked away for next time 🙂

The writing life

In writing news, I received my second rejection of a short story this year. I try to take the view that I am one more rejection closer to ‘yes,’ but honestly, things that been going so poorly in general of late that it’s been a little difficult to maintain a positive outlook.

Still, I continue to forge ahead with writing, revising, and submitting. It’s what we writers do.

Pupdate

Nuala had another glucose curve back in January and the result is that we increased her insulin by four units a day and tried reducing her prednisone.

The former is working well (we think) but we had to resume her previous dosage of pred as her ears were beginning to close up again.

Otherwise, our pup-child is doing well and we’ll return to the vet in March for another glucose curve and general checkup.

A clarification on the dream thing

I just wanted to be clear that I have ‘normal’ dreams, too.

The other night, for example, I dreamed that my sister-in-law invited herself over to our house for a sleepover, which was to take place, at her request, in the storage area of our unfinished basement, which barely has room for us to stand or move around in, let alone three adults and camping gear—oh, didn’t I mention, the sleepover was actually a camp-out, in the middle of one of the coldest winters we’ve had recently, in an uninsulated basement with a drafty window . . .

I’ve also had work-related dreams in which the office has moved into a shopping mall and I’m there, after hours, with Phil, moving my own office furniture. I’m wearing a power suit, have short, dark hair, and I’m skinny in that way only women who spend several hours a day working out are skinny. But I’m still me. No one else is there.

Or, I’ve dreamed that my boss gets a promotion, and she invites me along for the ride, literally, as she’s boarding a Lear jet and I’ve been summoned to the runway on the assumption that, of course, I’ll want to drop everything and go.

Inside the jet, she lounges like Cleopatra, a platoon of virile, young military men seeing to her every desire. I wish her well and get the heck out of Dodge, happy to have escaped the ‘trap.’ Oh yes. Hellish trap, that would be . . .

I’ve had stress dreams, falling dreams, chase dreams, abandonment dreams, and nightmares I’m not going to repeat, because, while they are all perfectly clear in my memory, I don’t want to feed those particular beasts.

It’s just those rare few per year that are well developed stories in their own rights that have little, if anything, to do with my waking life.

Just so you know. I’m mostly normal. Mostly (she says in a voice like Newt’s in Aliens).

So that’s it for this week. My mom’s coming over for supper in a bit, and then I’m going to throw my hat in the ring of another writing contest.

Break a pencil in all of your creative endeavours this week!

Muse-inks

Something awesome and dreaming up new story ideas . . . literally

Earlier in the week, a friend of mine posted to Facebook that he’d received his copy of the Fall 2014 issue of On Spec—with my short story, “Downtime,” in it!

On Spec Fall 2014

Woohoo! See—that’s my actual name on the cover!

Further, my friend (also an SF writer, incidentally) said he liked it 😀

Heck, my mom was enthusiastic about it. You would expect that, but my mom would tell me if she didn’t like it.

I brought one of my precious copies with me to work, and my coworkers said they’d have to buy copies and get me to sign.

I have yet to convince Phil to read it. He will or he won’t and I’m cool with that. I’m just curious to see what Mr. Science makes of my science fiction-y self. To be honest, he hasn’t read anything I’ve written, and he’s only heard my poetry because he was kind of obligated to be at the book launch.

Of course, I read my “love” poems, the ones he’d inspired, and that embarrassed him. Maybe that’s why he’s so gun shy of my fiction . . . Trust me, dear, my fiction is not based in real life to any recognizable extent.

In any case, to any of you who live in Canada and are interested in seeing my story, you should be able to find it at your local Chapters, or your local indie shop.

For those of you outside of Canada, please visit On Spec’s web site to find out how you might be able to get your wee mitts on some of the best SF&F in Canada.

If you like speculative fiction, you might consider a subscription.

Gettin’ dreamy with it

For those of you who haven’t been following me for very long, one of my main answers to the question, where do you get your ideas? is, from my dreams, of course.

Although it doesn’t happen very often now that I’m an adult with a full time job and stress (tends to mess up my sleep), I dream in story. There are ususally one or two really good ones a year, but I’ll dream partly formed stories an additional four to six times a year.

I’m not going to tell you the content of my dream, per se, except that it’s a new adult science fiction romance (didn’t see that coming, did you—I didn’t see it coming) and the working title would be The Reality Bomb.

I’ll probably slot it in for 2015’s NaNoWriMo and let things ruminate for most of the year.

That’s what happened with Marushka. Though her story is a YA urban fantasy/fairy tale retelling, I dreamed her up January 1, 2014. TRB was a dream of January 4, 2015.

There was another dream, which I’ll call Bright and Far Away that was a space opera story with military elements, but that one didn’t grab me as firmly as either Marushka or TRB.

So dreams coming true. It’s a theme.

Tomorrow, I’ll be wooing my soul (more on that in a future post) and Tuesday, I’ll be delivering a workshop. This is a good time for creative Mellie.

How have your creative lives been going?