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. 

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