Sunday, October 31, 2010

Can I really do this?

Me:  I can.  I can do this.  I can write 50,000 words in thirty days.  Right?  I mean, I think I can.

Me:  I don't know.  That's a lot of words.  How am I gonna work, take care of the kids, eat, argue over homework, help the nine year old memorize a poem, sleep?

Me:  You're really pathetic, ya know.  You just got back from Surrey, with all that motivation and determination, and now you're doing it again!  You're doubting.  What happened to "today, we write" HUH?

Me:  Yeah!  There may come a time, when I give up.  But it is not this day.   This day, We Write!!!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Surrey Hangover

Like so many others, I’m finally starting to get over the Surrey Hangover.  Just in time to do a last minute gear-up for NaNoWriMo (more on that in a bit).  
Well, you’ve all seen the notes I’ve posted on workshops and master classes.  Now I’ll go over some of my favorite bits.  First off, these are the themes that stuck with me:  Write every single day.  Believe in yourself.  Know your characters and story like you know yourself.  Read as much as you can.  Don't Give Up.
Now, the fun parts.  I met so many great folks.  Some I knew from the Compuserve Forum.  Others were brand new to me (Darcie, Deborah, Trish, Scott, Adrienne).  I miss you all, and look forward to seeing everyone again next year.  Until then, there’s always Facebook and blogs.
All the keynote speeches, classes and workshops were excellent.  But the two presenters that stood out for me were Ivan Coyote and Robert Dugoni.  If I’d known how moving they were going to be, I would have filmed it.  Seriously folks, these two are amazing!  
There’s no way to describe it.  Dugoni’s keynote speech showed pure passion for writing.  He tweaked the Aragorn LOTR speech, but I can’t remember how it went. I do remember that it brought more than a few tears and laughs.  We all stood at the end for a group “This day, WE WRITE!”  
You might be thinking that it’s a bit cheesy, and it may be.  But if you can listen to that man’s speech and not feel a surge of pride, passion, and motivation for writing…then writing is not for you.  It takes a whole lot more than want to to write a single novel, much less keep doing it.  
As Ivan Coyote put it, “This is serious shit.”  It is hard work, and tons of dedication is required.  But passion for writing feeds that dedication like wood on a fire.  After hearing them speak, I had a raging bonfire.
[I emailed Robert Dugoni yesterday and asked for a transcript of his speech to tack on the wall—like Stewart Smalley’s Daily Affirmation]
Friday I was scheduled to pitch my manuscript to Sorche Fairbank at 14:45.  Thank the gods I took pitch classes from Chuck Sambuchino and Katharine Sands.  I must have rewritten my pitch ten times or more in the 24 hours beforehand. 
I passed Ron Wodaski in the hall, and he stopped to tell me how well his pitch went, which only made me more jittery.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement of galactic proportions.  My whole life I’ve had an iron stomach, totally impervious to mere nerves.  Not that day.  No Sir.  No Ma’am.  
Sweaty palms.  Tachycardia.  Near Syncope.  I’m pretty damn sure I overdosed on caffeine between breakfast and the pitch.  That didn’t help.  
And the cottonmouth!  Jesus Christ!  Even smoking weed never gave me a case of dry-mouth like that did. 
The pitch was going well and I realized I’d left out the major subplot, which ends up being the payoff at the end.  After explaining that to Sorche, she perked up….and wanted pages.  Thirty to thirty-five of them.
[Cue adrenaline rush]
I blabbered some lame apologetic jibberish.  “Well, see I was really pitching for practice because I’m doing a total rewrite, changing the whole book to third POV instead of switching back and forth from 1st to 3rd-”
“That’s good.  I think that’ll work better.”  She nodded for me to continue.
“And I’m just not comfortable with sending anything out right now.  Parts of it are in second draft-others in third.”
“I agree.  You shouldn’t send anything until you have it completely polished.  Why don’t you take my card.  Here’s my email-and send me a query when it’s ready.  Mention that you pitched to me at Surrey.”
[Cue Hallelujah music and sun breaking through clouds, spilling glorious light over us both]
I know I thanked her more than once, but I can’t remember a damn word after that.  
I saw Ron again, and gushed about my pitch.  He said he’d met Sorche a few years earlier, and that if she showed interest it was no small matter.  
From there I road Cloud Nine up two flights of stairs to attend Jo Bourne’s amazing description workshop, where my pen ran out of ink halfway through.

Saturday night’s Compuserve Par-tay was a blast.  I had a great time discussing obscure BBC shows with Michael Slade, watching a nameless someone open a bottle of ale with his belt buckle, talking ales and whisky with Jack Whyte and Robert McCammon, eating Doritos with Lagavulin and ranting about real life description of clotted blood with Ron, and listening to great authors read snippets of their work aloud.  
It was so great to finally meet Forum Folk in person.  I wish there had been more time—Pam, Ron, kc, Diana, Tyner, Donna, Laura, Ev, Martha, Jo, Beth… I know I’m leaving out a few.  I had a blast, y’all. 

Sunday afternoon I had a great discussion with Jo Bourne on plotting a knife wound, bleeding, suturing, etc.  Only at a writer’s conference can I discuss medical jargon with non-medical types, and be free from squeamish faces and syncopal episodes.
Dinner Sunday night was bittersweet.  Everyone has gotten closer by that point, but we all must go home.  Special thanks to Martha for getting up an hour early Monday morning to split a cab ride with me.  

It was exhausting, exhilarating, and humbling.  And I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, the lovely and talented Diana Gabaldon!

Viewpoint and Focus—Diana Gabaldon

Diana started out with a quick apology for her sleepiness, which she attributed to staying up late drinking Lagavulin (provided by moi, for the Compuserve Forum Par-Tay).  She noted that a lack of hangover was one of the perks to drinking very good whisky.  My sentiments were with her at that moment.  At 11 a.m. I still needed more caffeine that the three cups I’d drank.  No Hangover.  Plenty Tired. 
[Diana read excerpts from LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER as well as BOOK 8 as examples of changing focus, and I can’t post them here]
Writing can be like magic tricks.  The magician distracts the viewer with movement/other characters to hide the things he doesn’t want you to see.  
Viewpoint is established by WHO is talking.  Pick a POV.  I won’t go into basic POV (first, second, third, omniscient), you can google that.
When you write a scene, decide what effect you are striving for.  The character will focus on things they’re invested/interested in.  That is what you want the reader to see.  
Have one movement per paragraph-it draws the eye down the page.
Change focus frequently-zoom in and zoom out.  If you start out describing a landscape, zoom in to see the anthill and how it reminds your MC of the busy city they left behind, before zooming back out to see the eagle soar overhead against a clear blue get the point.
Occasionally remind the reader who’s head you’re in.  This is especially important during long sections of information/description. 
Give just enough description to set the scene, but keep your eye on the goal.  Don’t get lost.  
Only tell the reader what they need to know at that moment.  

#Most questions asked at the end were related to the series, and not writing, so I didn’t write anything else down#

Get Off Your Ass And WRITE!

Writing Bootcamp for Procrastinators—Ivan Coyote

Any way I try to describe Ivan Coyote’s class, I find it entirely lacking.  You simply have to be there.  Honestly.  I’ll bullet-point the highlights, but really it was the most motivating class the whole weekend.  I will not miss one of her workshops next year.  
*Figure out what routines work for you.  If you grew up in a small house with upwards of 10-15 people in it at any given time, a quiet place might not be for you.  If you are distracted by nature, don’t write next to a window no matter how many times people tell you to sit somewhere “inspiring.”
Try all kinds of routines.  Mornings/Nights. Busy coffee shops/the oversized, well-lit closet, far away from ALL noise. With or without music. TRY EVERYTHING until you figure it out, and own it.  It doesn’t matter if NO ONE else does it that way.  YOU do. 
*Give yourself a deadline.  Ivan actually got her first full length novel (later published it) from NaNoWriMo.  If there’s a writer’s group, join it.  Make sure there are writers you think are better than you—give yourself something to strive towards. 
*Write. Every. Single. Day. 
Make the time.  Utilize the time.  Practice!  You wouldn’t show up to the playoffs without training first.  You won’t write well without practicing that either.  
Ivan said that at the beginning of NaNoWriMo, it was taking her three hours to get out the daily 1,667 words.  A few weeks later, she was getting that in forty-five minutes.  You Will Get Better With Practice.

Damn, I’m motivated all over again!

Your Shiny New Novel Needs Work

Polish & Shine—Elizabeth Engstrom
Elizabeth first covered her writing process.  When she starts a novel, she sees the end and works her way toward it.  She has a writing goal everyday, say five pages.  Once she has them, she does whatever else Life requires of her (unless of course she’s on a roll).
The next day she does some mild editing to those first five pages, prints them, and files them away.  She DOES NOT look at them again until the first draft is finished.   Then, she does day two’s writing.  Day Three, she does mild editing on work from day two, prints it, files it and writes day three’s work….. And so forth and so on.  Never Ever looking at work that’s already filed away.
Plots can change while you’re writing.  So she keeps a note pad, jotting things down along the way, but doesn’t go back to fix things.
After the first draft is written and all the pages are filed away, she takes a two-week break from the novel.  Here, she really stressed this break in order to look at your manuscript with a critical eye for editing.  
She works on articles and short stories to keep herself writing.  After the break, she reads the manuscript, in one sitting if possible, with her notes nearby.  
We were all relieved to know that her first drafts are bad, so she says.  They’re full of grammatical and spelling errors, telling instead of showing, backstory….All the same things we do.  
She rewrites the story one more time, all the way through, making changes according to her notes. Now she has a second draft, which she takes another two-week break from.  
For her third draft, She focuses on making it read well.  Then, she has an amazing checklist (as well as other writing tips that can be found on her website, HERE) she uses for editing the third draft.

1. Take out all the side trips.  If it doesn’t further the plot, take it out.
2. Flesh out the telling parts.
3. Take out the following words:  very, causing, here, this, now, today, just.
4. Investigate the use of the word “IT”  
5. Investigate the sentences using “There is” or “There are”
6. Investigate every Adverb (-ly words)
7. Replay every conversation.  Make sure every person is attributed correctly.  EX: He is referring to the last male who spoke.
8. Take out:  almost, nearly, kind of, sort of
9. Take out distractions or Shin Busters* :anything that pulls you out of the story—unattributed dialogue (who said what), inaccuracies, unclosed quotes, speech in paragraphs
10. Make sure reader is grounded in space and time at all times.
11. Investigate every use of “to be” (was, were, etc.)
12. Investigate all use of Passive Voice (by)
13. Make sure every sentence furthers the story, you need tension in every single one. 
14. Make sure every chapter has structure and is weighted at the end.
15. Make sure the opening grabs the reader and flows. Start with action
16. The ending echoes the beginning.
17. The protagonist needs an internal revelation separate from the external problem
18. Don’t let ancillary characters take over the show and don’t introduce a main character after act one.
19. Avoid cliches
20. Be interesting with every sentence.
21. Vary the rhythm of sentences
22. Use a sensory image in every paragraph.
23. The only slowing should be a subplot complication
24. Can you increase tension or tighten suspense, drawing out the action
25. Have you answered all the questions posed to the reader.
26. Omit unnecessary words.
27. In the final read-through, it should read like the wind!

Pace Yourself!

Pacing-Making it Work for You:  Hallie Ephron
She had a wonderful handout, but my scanner is on the fritz so I can’t show it to you.  I’ll attempt to explain it.  
The first page had a scene broken down into its smallest pieces of action.  To the right of the page there were two columns; one for Slow vs. Fast, and one for Easy vs. Tense.  We rated the scenes 1-5.  At the end we had a graph-line to see the flow of the scene.  Very helpful!
Is the action slow or fast?  Is the tension high or low?  This will affect how you write the scene.  Make your scenes compact and give them their own arc. Every scene has to earn its keep.  
If it happens slowly you won’t necessarily write it slowly.  You could write it faster so the reader doesn’t get bored of the MC’s morning routine or drive to work.  Use reflection when something isn’t happening.  Sensory details slow down fast action.  
Introduce a character or setting slowly.  Don’t do it all at once.  Develop it as you move through a scene instead of an information dump.  Later, you can save details by introducing those same characters and settings faster. 
1. Introducing a setting:  happens slow, write it slow
2. Car chase:  happens fast, write it slow.  Like a gunfight in a movie where things literally go into slow motion.
3. Thinking about what happened in the car chase:  happens slowly, write it slowly
4. Introducing a character:  happens slow, write slow
5. Love making:  might happen slow or fast, but write it slow.
6. Flashback to “when we met”:  happens fast, write slow
7. Exploring an abandoned house:  happens slow, write it slow
8. Old friends get reacquainted: happens slow, write slow
9. Two characters argue:  happens fast, write it fast. 
10. A character waiting for another character to show up:  happens slow, write it fast
11. A character wakes up and realizes she’s paralyzed:  happens slow, write slow
Internal dialogue: put in to build slowly, take out to speed up and then reflect later.
Sentence Length:  short for fast, long for slow 
Sentence structure:  even in a long sentence you can use short/stacatto structure to speed things up.
Vocabulary:  keep it simple, not distracting.
Verbs:  they are your friend, choose wisely
Sensory detail:  fast action-less detail, slow action-more detail
Camera distance:  move back for slow, zoom in for fast
Pregnant Pause:  you’re giving the reader pause to put things together/absorb what has happened.
Isolating Phrases:  create a sense of finality. 
Humor:  gives tension relief and makes slower passages move fast.
Conflict:  increases tension and makes things more interesting, engages the reader, makes slow parts go faster.
Summary: keeps dialogue or action from dragging on too long.
Jump Cut:  stop abruptly and pick up later, shift POV to ramp up the tension.
Weather/Atmospherics:  slows things down
Setting: slows.  Can use it to show time passing.
Backstory:  save it for later and sprinkle sparingly through out the story in appropriate places. 
Flashback:  like backstory, you need to place it where the reader would be interested in that information.
Leave out the parts people skip:  long dialogue/monologue, long news articles.  Breeze through those things and Highlight the important parts. 
Pacing check by highlighting a scene-by-scene outline:
RED for slower narrative, less tension
YELLOW for rising momentum, increased tension and suspense about what is GOING to happen.
GREEN for fast action.
When you are done with the manuscript, go back and outline it.  Each scene gets a one or two sentence description.  Code them by colors listed above.  Lie them out in order so you see the overall flow of the novel.  
Overall you need some of each in all parts.  You want Reds more at the beginning, Yellows in and out for building up, Greens more at the end, and Reds again after climax for reflection.

*Once my scanner is functional, I’ll post the handout (w/ Hallie’s permission)*

Robert Dugoni is The Man!

Story Structure—Robert Dugoni 
The way he presented this stuff was super simplified and somehow he didn’t leave anything out.  He’s an excellent speaker and easy on the eyes to boot.  His passion for writing/story is apparent, and to me, that made all the difference in his class. The Wizard of Oz and Lord of the Rings were frequently used as examples.
We tell a story to entertain.  We entertain through out characters.  What is a story?  It’s the MCs journey.  Internal- character motivation and External-the plot.
The Beginning—what should it do?  It should show what kind of book this will be (within the first few chapters).
[Not necessarily in this order, it through the first Act]
1. Ordinary World-who/what/where is your main character
2. Call to Adventure-what sets the story in motion
3. Refusal of the Call-  “Uh-oh.  This isn’t gonna be easy.”
4. Mentor-  enter the person who will help them
Beginning—establish the promise or theme
*Who/where is your protagonist?
*What do they want?  Why do they want it?  What keeps them from getting it?

Middle—develop the promise (MC meets friends/enemies & MC gets tested) The meat of the book.
*You should know who’s story this is by now
*Through line-what is the story ultimately about?
*How is your protagonist going to achieve the goal?
*What are the obstacles(tension)?  Who are the enemies?  You’re creating hurdles for them, which should escalate toward the climax.  This will show what kind of person your character is.  They should be constantly thwarted by the antagonist.
*Friends and Mentor help them throughout. 
*Somehow isolate the protagonist so that they face the antagonist alone.  
*Ends with the Climax.

Ending—fulfills the Promise
*Doesn’t have to be happy.  Has to be satisfying.
* The road back- Not out of the woods yet.  MC needs to do the rest on her own. 
*There are still obstacles to face.
*Mentor shows up. Lesson learned.  Goal achieved.
*Have you tied up the loose ends?
*Did you deliver on the promise?
*Was the MC your “actor”?

*I've emailed him to get the handout for this workshop, so I might come back and edit this for clarity later*

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A little taste of the South

Page One—Robert McCammon (author) and native Alabamian
I had to leave this workshop a little early to do my agent pitch, so notes are minimal.  The class started with some open discussion of writing process, and a few of us surprised him by admitting that we didn’t start with page one/line one.  I’m a chunk writer so one day I might write from the middle of the story, the climax the next, and go back to the beginning another day.  
We all jotted down an opening line, whether from our current WIP or something we thought would make a good first line, and read them out loud.  
Here’s one I’d been tossing around:  “Standing in the middle of my bedroom, surrounded by a sea of discarded clothes, I panicked.”   Now, I have no idea if I’ll actually use that line, but I could.  All of a sudden it didn’t seem so daunting.  
He stressed that the first line on page one should make the reader wonder/question.  What is going on?  What will happen next?
-Try to stick to a writing routine
-It takes an enormous amount of dedication, so don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t do this.  You Can!
It was such a pleasure to take one of Jo Bourne’s workshops. She is a writer of historical romances and a frequent poster on the Compuserve Writer’s forum.  I was a few minutes late because the door had no sign on it-my only complaint for the weekend.
Use the simpler word. Use a simple, discreet, exact word.
Read your work aloud.
Leave out backstory, do that somewhere else.
If it isn’t underfoot, we don’t see it. 
Avoid long sentences in description.  They’re too slow, and you’ll lose the reader.
POV character has a sentence length he/she prefers.  Stick to it.
First and last sentences have the most impact in a paragraph.
Build description from nouns and action from verbs.  Be specific! Oak not tree, Sergeant not soldier.
Don’t say the obvious:  fluffy kitten, warm fire.
Don’t overdress nouns.  One in five nouns are allowed adjectives.  Use adjectives for the Most Important Nouns, the ones significant to that scene.
Use ALL senses.
Description is symbolism and can tie in the themes.
Passive Voice is who does the action of the verb.  It is okay in description.  The chair was placed in the hall.  The reader isn’t thinking who put the chair there?  They want to see the drunk guy fall over it.  
Zoom in and Zoom out.
Use bright color when you can.
Scenery-have some movement to draw the reader through the description.  
Add description to give setting.  Not a laundry list, only 5 or 6 things in a room/place.  Make them interact with the objects. 
Description creates a 3 dimensional world.  Your POV  character is in a relationship with these things-gives the world solidity
Flavor of the description varies dependent on how close the object is to the character. how close/how far. Be realistic.  Touch/feel is near, sound sight is far.
1. touch zone-
2. conversational zone-small things/up close
3. far off zone-outside the window, down the street, across the room
if you have a lot of action, there can be too much. break it up with description, then the next bit of action hits harder
Tacks your character into the physical world and gives dimension
Character description is the same, be realistic in relation to distance seen from.  
We are looking at the object as seen from the character.  there are associations with that thing/object personal to the POV char. 
Pick details that have a relationship to the char. involve them with the scenery. 
Be thrifty with description
Use the same scenery several times
Fill physical objects with emotion and meaning
Build mood with description
Focus--all things are filtered thru the POV character and what is important to them in that moment. Choose who's POV is better for each scene. 
What they see is in the parameter of the beam of a flashlight
The person sees what they know and what is important to them and is limited to that.
Straight dialog is faster than real life--throw in description, action if it needs to slow down.  
Use paragraph breaks, make use of white space so as not to drag down the reader. 

Thank You, Chuck Sambuchino!

Perfecting the In-Person Pitch
Chuck Sambuchino was an awesome presenter-funny, down to earth, and knowledgeable. I rewrote my pitch three times during this workshop.  [I purposefully took this mere hours before I pitched to Sorche Fairbank.  It must have helped.  Despite the fact that I’m on my second/third draft, she still wants to see the first 30-35 pages once I’m done.  I was thrilled, to say the least.]
Step One:  Introduce yourself 
Step Two:  Logline-One sentence about your work.  Written on the fly, I got—Adult contemporary fiction about a woman’s struggle to get her husband back from the grip of PTSD post Iraq war.  It needed rewording, but the main idea is there.  
Step Three:  The Pitch—3-10 sentences to introduce the main character and hook/conflict.  Don’t give away the ending.  
Step Four:  Any interesting points or information about yourself that are applicable to the story.  
For Non-Fiction pitches, start with a Bio-what makes you an expert?  Then tell what your Platform is-the ability to sell, specific audience, do you have podcasts/radio/blogs/articles?
-Avoid generalities (chaos ensues, her world was turned upside down, etc.), be specific, but there’s no need to tell every single detail of your story.
-Mentioning Themes- tells you nothing about the actual story
-The Pitch is not a synopsis
-Don’t pass on business cards or pages unless they ask for them.  They don’t have time for them at conferences and will likely get lost in the piles of stuff.
-Don’t try to pitch short stories, magazine articles, or poetry.
-Be careful comparing your work to other authors.  It comes across as cocky.  You might say your manuscript would appeal to fans of So-and-so because of such-and-such.
-RELAX.  Be confident but not cocky.
-Promise Of Premise:  Deliver what you pitched about.
-He mentioned the book SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder
You can follow Chuck's Blog here

Screwing up Robert Ray's perfectly helpful Master Class

Sorry, but this one is even more disjointed than the Pitchcraft Master Class Notes.  The class focused more on writing prompts and he made a lot of comparisons to Jane Eyre in plotting, antagonist/protagonists, character development, etc. My scanner is on the fritz so I couldn't get a copy of his handout put up here.  Honestly, without taking the class it wouldn't make much sense anyway.  I suggest getting his book The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.  We didn't even hit all of these things.  The following is a combination of his handout and my notes.
Now, on to my jibberish...

Welcome to Your Novel Rewrite--Robert J. Ray

*=Discussion points    #=prompts
3 Structure
I. Story—character, resource base=goal, motivation, wants, obstacles, myth, legend, pattern, back story, archetype.  Key:  who wants what?  Will they kill to get it?
II. Structure—acts, key scenes, scene-sequence, plot, subplot, subtext, texture, flashback, POV time-span.  Key:  how many flashbacks?
III. Style—noun, verb, modifier, syntax, image, metaphor, simile, analogy, symbol, dialogue, description, narration, exposition.  Key:  Operation Ratio.
Style is the surface-what you can see.  Structure is the semi-visible framework under the surface.  Story is a competition for the resource base and is buried under structure and style.

1. Warmup—Plot equals Protag’s Path
2. Grid of the Three Goods-Resources, Genes, Behavior (Grid= Plot and 2 subplots)  I remember nothing about this.  Sorry, guys. 
3. Antagonist (subplot 1)
4. Core stories—separate the plot from stacked subplots:  Rags to Riches, Grail Quest, King Replacement, Queen Replacement, Revenge Quest, Scapegoat Sacrafice, Coming of Age.
5. List of Firsts (glue the plot to the subplot and generate scenes in the structure (II))
First Encounter
First Words
First Date
First Kiss
First Fight
First Sex
First Regret
6. The First Encounter, a movable scene on the Arc (see prompt below)
7. Expanding Dialogue—dialogue mirrors the conflict between plot and subplot
8. Rewriting Dialogue—rules on the surface, subtext below
9. List of Scenes; Arc=Entry, Exit, Fate
10. Firsts and Lasts generate scenes (plot + one or more subplots/overlaps with number nine above)  Last Times are important Threshold Crossings if they bring you or your character to a change of states.  The first time initiates, the last time probes pain or memory or nostalgia.
11. Rewriting with the Scene Template.  Scene = Collision of Plot and Subplot
12. Verbs:  Style starts with choosing verbs.
Reader sees words. Writer sees layers.

*Write every single day without your internal editor.  Timed writing and prompts get your juices flowing.
#The first encounter (Lover A meets Lover B OR Protag. Meets Antag.)—  prompt:  Exiting the ________ she saw a man who reminded her….. (6)
*Write from the antagonist’s POV to get the subtexts, even if you don’t use it in the final manuscript.  (I heard this many times over the weekend:  your story is only as strong as your antagonist)
*POV-the key is sensory details.  Not visual so much, because with movies and television it has lost its impact.  
#I am rewriting a story about a character who wants….. (1)
#What is your setting?  What is the timeframe?  How many POVs are you using?  What is your antagonist’s name, age, sex, fate, point of entry/exit?
#My name is ______.  I am the antagonist.  I was born in the year _____ in a town called _____, and the first sound I remember was my mother cursing me because….. (3)
Timed exercise prompts (10)
#The first time she made love…..
#The first time she bled…..
#The first time her mother told her…..
# The last time she kissed
# The last time she saw her mother…
*Squeeze your character down to an archetype and a ritual; what is their core story?
#Setting: The time was_____. The room smelled of _____ (11)
#Character:  His/her hair looked like….. (11)
#Dialogue:  “What are you looking at?”  (11)
#Action: [pick an object]  She picked up the _____and…..
#Intruder:  A shadow sliced the light and a voice said….. (11)
#Climax or cut to next scene  (11)
*Don’t put the crap between dialogue.  Then you have three people: the author and two characters.  Five rules—short lines (1 or 2), echo words, object inserted, hook to past, link to future.  EXAMPLE (The English Patient)
Almasy sits alone, writing into his HERODOTUS, a map folded in front of him, from which he makes notes.  Katharine comes across with a clutch of her SKETCHES from the Cave wall.  Hands them to him.  They’re beautiful
ALMASY:  What’s this?
KATHARINE:  I thought you might paste them into your book.
ALMASY:  We took several photographs, there’s no need.
KATHARINE:  I’d like you to have them.
ALMASY (handing them back):  There’s really no need.  This is just a scrapbook.  I should feel obliged.  Thank you.
KATHARINE (exasperated):  And that would be unconscionable, I suppose, to feel any obligation?  Yes.  Of course it would.
She’s already turning, walking as far from him as the cramped shelter permits.  He continues with his maps.
-Object inserted: book, the Herodotus; sketches by the protag.
- Short lines:  What’s this?  We took several photographs.  I’d like you to have them.
-Echo Word:  you, book/scrapbook, feel. Obliged/obligation
-Future Hook:  should fee obliged, would be unconscionable
-Past link:  we took several photographs
-Intruder:  Katharine, the antagonist invades his book with her sketches
-Symbolism:  the book is where Almasy parks his heart
-Action:  a sandstorm buries the lovers, as they are digging out, Almasy invites Katharine to paste her sketches into his book.  As she pastes in her sketches, we see the softer side of Almasy, photos, some pressed flowers.  This guy isn’t so tough, after all.
-Subtext:  Adultery
-Structure:  the sexual triad of husband, wife, lover (mirrors Gatsby)
-Core stories:  Almasy’s an explorer on a Grail Quest; Katharine is a Death Crone out for King Replacement
-Lesson:  The right sacred object can super-charge your writing.
#AND, SO, THEN, WHEN:  timed exercise.  Every time you want to stop and put a period, insert and so/and then/and when for one long run-on sentence.
*Syntax:  short, chaining, long, fragmented sentences.
#Give me that_____  (7)
*Do a character bio-then write backstory, write scenes, let the people talk.

EXAMPLE of 3 Goods-Resources/Genes/Behavior:  the key to mate selection
Let’s imagine a party scene.  The guests are 30-something, educated, attractive, and mixture of singles, marrieds, and divorced persons.  We focus on two characters-single man, Claude and single woman, Eileen.  Claude is handsome, wears a Rolex and drives a Mercedes.  Eileen is attractive, no car-came to the party with a friend.  Claude is witty-tells a good story.  Eileen is reserved, formal-attracted to Claude. Her secret in this scene is her borrowed wardrobe-she loves good clothes.  Two days before the party she was laid off.  One week before, she broke off a relationship.  She is polite, well mannered, a lady.
What is going on in the subtext?  To find out we decode the details.
Handsome is code for good genes.  Mercedes and Rolex are code for good resources.  Claude has two goods out of a possible three. No judgement yet on his behavior.  
Attractive is code for Eileen’s good genes.  The term laid off is code for bad resources.  The borrowed wardrobe suggests that Eileen is pinching her pennies.  Another clue to bad resources.  Eileen is a lady, which suggests good behavior.
What if Claude has bad behavior?  Eileen has a decision to make: do the good looks and resources outweigh his bad behavior?  Is he trainable?  Will she still go home with him? Her decision will show us her character.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Planes, Trains, & One Automobile: My journey to SIWC

flying into Vancouver, BC

The journey to Surrey International Writer's Conference started at 03:30 a.m. (central time).  Two flights, two trains, and one bus ride later I walked through the doors of the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel at 1:27 p.m. (pacific time), which left me three minutes to do the conference check-in before my first Master Class.  
I drug my luggage up two flights of stairs, because I was in too much of a hurry to look for the elevator, and parked myself at the back of the room--secretly hoping no one noticed my grand entrance.  I've tried to transcribe my notes, but I hope you'll bear with me, knowing what all I went through just prior to the class :)

Disclaimer:  My apologies if these notes seem erratic.  Looking back over my own version of short hand, trying to link up marginal notes, and deciphering my chicken scratch might have weakened the effect.  Please understand that things occasionally get off topic when unrelated questions are asked throughout the workshop.  If you have any questions, I can try to expand.  (These aren’t necessarily her exact words. I’ve improvised.)

Pitchcraft--Katharine Sands 
Good news: Content is KING. If you have great content, you’ll do well.  There is room for all genres/content right now-never been a broader market.
Bad news: Very competitive market.
Common mistakes
1.  The agent is not “for hire.”  Don’t treat them like an employee.  Don’t waste their time with half-assed work.  GIVE THEM ONLY YOUR BEST!
2. Leave the backstory in the back.  They do not need to know, and don’t care to know, how long it took you to write this manuscript…how many drafts you’ve done…the obstacles you’ve faced along the way.  
3. Don’t try to present a theme.  They all boil down to “redemption” anyway.  They’ve likely heard your theme a hundred times this week. 
4. Too much humility or hubris.  Don’t be overly cocky or humble.  Be proud of your work but realize you are NOT Stephen King, Anne Rice, Ernest Hemingway, Diana Gabaldon, etc. 
5. Don’t initially mention a series/sequel.  You wouldn’t talk about marriage on a first date, would you?
Pop Quiz:  In one sentence, tell what your book is about.
I’ll give you a moment……
Now.  Consider this…why does the world need this book?  Why are you the best person to write it (especially in non-fiction)?  Is the idea Fresh, Unique, Different?
When you’re writing and rewriting your pitch or query, think about the protag/setting/problem (Maass) or, as Katharine calls it, Person/Place/Pivot.  
Imagine your pitch as a movie trailer.  Setting—do you have first-hand knowledge of the place/time?  Person—zoom in on the character, specifically give name and age.  Problem—what sets things in motion?
When looking for an agent…
*Now, you didn’t hear this from her, BUT homework isn’t everything.  New agents are popping up all the time.  Interns and assistants change agencies, maybe even start their own, and they’ve read the query letters. An agency might have hired an editor or new agent mere days before you send out queries.  They might be looking for something just like your WIP.  It can’t hurt to ask.  In reality, it’s just one NO to add to the list. (She gave an example:  rec’d a query about non-fiction book using poetry to study for SATs.  She had zero interest in poetry or SAT books, but the idea was so fresh and unique, she loved it)
*DO NOT use generalized greetings:  Dear Agent or send the same query with 50 agents in the address line.  Not Good. 
*Apply Everywhere.  You never know who might lay eyes on that query letter.  
Questions to ask an interested agent…
*Why do you want to be my agent?
*What is your strategy for selling it?
*What is your prognosis?  What are the odds of selling it?
*What is your experience with this kind of book?

I will try to post a few classes worth of notes per day, but right now I.Am.Beat.  More to follow in the next few weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo.  I expect you won't be hearing from me in November.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Surrey, BC here I come (well tomorrow, really)

I should be writing, rewriting, editing, and so many other productive things right now.  But I can't seem to get focused.  I'm just too excited about my big trip to the SIWC.   Four days.  No husband.  No children.  Surrounded by amazing authors with a wealth of knowledge to share.  In fact, I've woken up before 5 a.m. the last two days and couldn't get back to sleep because of it.  I'm worse than a kid at Christmas.

Did I mention the No Kids part?

Anyhow, my bag is [nearly] packed.  I've picked a scene for the Blue Pencil session with Jo Bourne.  There's not much to worry about.  So why am I so keyed up?

First off, I can't find my better pair of heels for Saturday night's banquet.  Target was fresh out of my size.  Plenty of size 6s and 9s though.  Assholes.  I don't know why I ever thought they were better than WalMart.  Just when you need something in a pinch, they drop the ball.

And oh yeah, I'm scheduled to pitch to Sorche Fairbank on Friday, and my manuscript is nowhere near ready.  When I signed up, I'd thought my second, maybe even third, draft would be done.  Nope.  Not even close.  I considered canceling because I don't want to waste her time.  BUT, I'd really like to practice pitching, and who knows...she might like the idea of it, right?  A girl can dream.
So I've made an appointment at Blue River Canyon Day Spa for a four hour spa package, that I hope will take away some of the nerves.  My wonderful, amazing, doesn't-get-the-whole-writing-thing husband gives me gift certificates every year to this place.  Unfortunately, my schedule doesn't allow for many trips (only two in the last three years).  So when I go, I get the good shit because it might be another two years before I get the chance again.

Here's to no more stress and getting the most out of this amazing conference.

p.s. I'll try to blog along the way, but I hear there won't be much extracurricular, don't wait up