Writer’s Log: 2184 Writer’s Workshop 2

Yep, I’m organizing another workshop; getting together a bunch of folks who’ll have me drone on about this or that. I’ve already received numerous, secondary submissions which I’ve edited. Sheesh, to endure this whole thing a second time? Writers!

Albeit, I’ve created another slide deck to dazzle them:
GDocs to the rescue
(Realize, this deck is meant to spur discussion, not complete it. Feel free to share your corrections/comments, this is a community effort after all.)

We will have additional material to pick apart as I include some external content. There’s this guy, a real annoying guy, a writer, who drills me with email promotion nonsense daily. However, he’s got some damn solid things to say. So, I included them as, hell the more fodder you throw at the novice writer the more chance something sticks. Just look at me and the onslaught I endured to get even this far.

I also sprinkled in C.S.Lakin’s twelve pillars. Okay, I admit I’ve got that list plastered as a background on my home PC. Really, really. Concept with a kicker? Fuck me Alex, that is like the circus tent pole holding up the universe; the turtle crawling about the nothingness carrying about the cosmos encrusted on his shell. You think you can just sit and write a story — without grounding it in a solid foundation of myth and mystery? You can’t.

Some good will come of all of this, even if nobody “graduates” from my school for the delusional. What might that good be? I’ve learned a shit-ton just researching and attempting to presume I might have a thing or two to pass on. Teachers must all die wise, don’t you think?

 

Writer’s Log: 2182

I’ve been reading a few writer’s craft books. One recommended by our favorite Writer’s Grinch, The Lie that tells a Truth. The other is the Twelve Key Pillars of Novel Construction (links below).

The first so far, feels like being tormented by my personal writer’s cheerleading demon. “Write this, write that. Come on Duffy, get off your arse and write me a scene about how your characters would react to seeing a fruit-stand purveyor being gang raped by a band of capuchin monkeys.”

The other, the 12 Pillars one, provides a holistic approach, a “You gotta start with a concept with heart, a protagonist with cajones, a theme with a big-hair metal-band rhapsody.”

I’ll get through them and I suspect, learn a bit along the way.

What I’ve noticed, in the interim, is that I’ve tightened my whole mental process of words to paper. I’ve adopted the, readers are smart, just tell them the bare minimum approach. And this works well. My stories speed up. I have to write less to get my ideas across. I get to rip along with plot. In general, and in tribute to our Grinch, less is more.

Nuance rules.

What’s more important to recognize is that this metamorphosis has taken roughly five years to accomplish. Five painful years to learn that the heart of the story must not be obscured with needless decoration. Story essential comes home to roost.

Marjorie sighed.
Clayton touched her arm. “That bad?”
She scratched a fingernail across the worn arm of her chair. “Worse.”
Her husband stood and gazed out the window. “It’s done then?”
“Unless you cut it off completely.” Marjorie pulled a loose thread, let it drift to the floor.
“I can’t,” Clayton said.
”Then, neither will I.”

 

Writer’s Log: 2170 Workshop Review

My Writing Workshop was a success.

Two hours, the first one with me power-driving through the strategic and tactical slides. Then an hour of presenting some of the participant’s work and walking through edits I’d made.

No one wanted to go home despite the late hour. Writers, sheesh. They don’t know when to quit.

I solicited some feedback and here was a comprehensive reply:

“Honestly, was very interesting and easy for me to follow. I left the meeting feeling a little burned out because I felt like I learned quite a few really very useful and interesting things. Your expertise on the subject matter was apparent. To me one of the most important aspects was you listed a number of meaningful calls to action to improve our work.

I left the meeting feeling encouraged by the fact that if I work at it, I will continue to improve. providing the calls to action is a really important part of that. It will be important to maintain the progression I think. I wouldn’t have guessed that it was your first time leading a instruction and critique session.

Perhaps something that could add value is to find specific examples of some of the areas of improvement within the our work and talk through some of the edits that you suggest. Of course that would be easier if people didn’t submit 20 minutes before the session started haha.

Overall, very educational, and encouraging. Will look forward to participating in the future.”

Although I didn’t record it (sorry Goldie, George) I’m pretty sure it happened.

Another:

“I thought the workshop was excellent. I appreciated that you tackled the basics. I like the idea of moving on to higher level information, but i think it would be great to do more of a deep dive on some of the basics like dialogue and scenes before we move into strategy. It was nice that you gave feedback to everyone. Maybe next time we could also do a deep dive on one person’s work and have a discussion about it? This might help people to start thinking critically. “

Initially, my nervousness showed. But after I moved through the Takeaways slide, I got into explaining my ideas on each of the big pieces. I noticed that, rather that read the slides, I ignored them, and spoke around the material, providing a parallel take on the bullet points I’d provided. I personally hate when speakers just read the frickin’ slides. (The folks get to access the presentation at their leisure.)

I did use the material I’d created for the basic skills—the tactical. Reading a sentence and assessing why it either works or doesn’t (given all the factors that make up a good sentence: dialog-tags, active/passive, show-v-tell, adverbs, story essential) helps drive home what ‘writing well’ truly means. To me, internalizing these sentence tactics is both the hardest yet critical aspect to good writing. You can have the most fantastical plot, the strongest characters, and the greatest setting, but without having mastered the basics, your story will suck.

Writer’s Log: 2166 Story Essential

Story Essential means every word counts. Every word moves your tale forward. Nothing is included just because you like the way it sounds, the way it feels—its literary bells chiming in the chapel.

But here’s another way to look at this concept. It’s math, so brace yourself.

  • The average page contains 200-250 words. We’ll settle on 240 for convenience.
  • It takes the average person one minute to read one page.
  • That means every second your reader will have read four words (240 / 60 = 4).
  • Four words per second.
  • Ten seconds go by and your reader has read forty words.

Here’s the kicker: Those forty words, WERE THEY WORTH THOSE 10 SECONDS OF READER’S TIME?

A whole minute goes by—a page—two hundred and forty words. Was every one of those words necessary? Did you waste any of the readers time with filler, do-nothing description or extraneous dialog that has nothing to do with enticing the reader to read the next page?

Story Essential means winnowing your narrative until no extraneous words burn reading time.

A starving reader craves story sustenance. A bloated one dismisses it.

~~~

For my workshop, I’ve been focusing on ground level mechanics, the tactical aspects of writing. It’s been pointed out that there’s another aspect which bears mentioning that, although not mechanics, ties in with the burgeoning writer: what to write.

I’m not talking about subject matter, any prompt of your own device or source (http://writingexercises.co.uk/create-a-setting.php or https://blog.reedsy.com/plot-generator/) will do. Specifically, I’m referring to what you see and hear in your mind when you portray your story’s settings and characters.

I skim over this concept in the workshop’s Writer’s Wrules, but essentially, becoming scene “in tune”, early on when one is learning to write, may help avoid difficult to shake habits that expose a writer as a noob: Info dumping, excessive description, disingenuous dialog, exhaustive soliloquies, or rambling character speeches, etc.

Immersing one’s imagination in the scene and extracting the essential details, the emotive ques that personify the moment—that trick, learned early on, will enhance the quality of narrative and propel a writer’s work up the levels scale.

Writer’s Log: 2158 Writer’s Workshop

In my desire to learn to write well, I’ve decided that I’ve reached a point where my limited skills can be shared. So, I announced that I will be offering a Writer’s Workshop at my place of work; a couple of hours, after 5:00 pm on a weeknight within our same building (so that people can leverage their commutes). Half a dozen folks have already signed up.

I’ve reviewed my various “Writer’s Log” posts here as well as the compendium of advice I’ve received from various others (all dumped into a big-ass GDocs file) and reduced my syllabus down to the following list you see below. This list is a teaser I printed on strips of paper to hand out. The actual syllabus is a slide-deck of this content with examples and illustrations.

I’d like to solicit opinions from the writers in this group as to what you’d care to teach a set of neophytes on the task of writing well. This specific list comes directly from my own stumbling blocks upon which I skinned my shins repeatedly.

WRITER’s WORKSHOP

POV
Point of View

TENSE
Past & present

DIALOG
People act while speaking

ACTIVE vs PASSIVE
Was & were

CONFLICT
Bad things happening to good people

STRUCTURE
Nested story, chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence

TIME
Sequential, episodic, flashbacks

PROCESS
How to write: Plan, wing-it, a blend

TOPICS
Genre, Theme, Story, Plot, Characters, Setting, POV, Tense, Dialogue, Scenes, Conflict, Pace, Active vs Passive, Narration, Description, Show vs tell, Protagonist, Antagonist, Tone, Mood, Style, Voice, Diction, Device, Allusions, Red Herrings, MacGuffins, Hooks, Climax, Conclusion, Denouement.