Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Writers' Wednesday: Writing Workshops in Brief

As I promised, here are the highlights of the workshops I attended at last weekend's Master Class writing retreat!

Hooking the Reader: Discussion centered on a story's first page, and what it needs to accomplish. Most important, what details of character and setting emerge? What kind of story is it (what genre)? What hints are placed about the character or plot?

The Heart of the Matter: Talked all about theme. We had to do a pretty thoughtful homework assignment in preparation for this workshop: write the "elevator pitch" (a quick, compelling description of your story), write a 2-sentence summary, write the theme in a few words, write the back cover copy. At the end of it, decide what the "heart" of your book really is. Keep this in front of you all the time that you're writing and revising this story. Remember what is most crucial to this story. Put that on every page or in every chapter.

Plot and Pacing: I loved this one. Write down the 5 most important things that happen in your story. Then look at Freytag's Pyramid, which describes the Inciting Incident (what starts the action/conflict in a story), the rising action (increasing conflicts or tension), the climax, the falling action, and the denouement (final wrap up of all loose ends). Then go back to your 5 important things. Ultimately, they should match the different points of the Pyramid. If they don't, what part(s) of your plot might be missing? The editor giving this workshop also showed a very explicit breakdown of different popular books and how the action rises and leads to a powerful climax and ending.

Character: Use the Myers-Briggs (or any other psychological test) to assess your characters and draw out their strengths, weaknesses, flaws, & tendencies. You can also use the results to see how well you really know your characters. You might think you're writing a strong alpha male hero, but look at his actions & interactions in terms of one of these psychological tests - what other actions could you give him to strengthen the way he comes across to the reader? Do you truly know how he's coming across?

Happy writing, friends!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Mentionables: A Writers' Retreat in Review

I'm back from my writers' retreat in the very remote and beautiful location of Silver Bay, New York! It was a fantastic and very intense 36 hours of writing work, and it definitely stretched my boundaries as a writer. Here was my view first thing each morning:

And here was the Inn, where we stayed and socialized and had readings:

Saturday afternoon, we all had 25 minute in-depth critiques of the first 20 pages of the manuscript we had sent in, back in the summer, to be considered for acceptance to the conference. 5 editors from high-powered NYC publishing houses attended; my session was with the very gregarious and very knowledgeable Katherine Jacobs, who's with Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan. Since the weather was so nice, she decided to do her critiques outside rather than inside, so we sat on the Inn's porch in rocking chairs and ate chocolate (she brought) and talked plot, theme and character. Really, it was a writer's dream:

The 35 of us attended workshops on Opening Pages, Getting to the Heart of the Matter (Theme), Plot & pacing, Character Development, and Publishing Myths. We also spent Saturday morning in small groups of 7, reading and critiquing each other's pages. I gained so much from the experience, even though it definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Going to this retreat without knowing anyone else forced me to sit with others at meals, share my work with people I had never met before, and talk about my book over and over again - which in itself really helped shape the story.

By the end of the weekend, I was both star-struck and exhausted. Some of the writers who attended were powerhouses, award-winners with multiple hardcover books under their belts, agents, and publishing contracts that lead well into 2020 (check out Sarah Albee, Kathleen DubleAlison Ashley Formento, & Kristi Roberts, among others. Fun fact: if you click on The Benevolent Society on Kristi's website, you'll see the chapter she read and we critiqued on Saturday morning in our small group). Also of note: Editor Kathy Dawson was there too ~ she's an executive editor with Penguin who's starting up her own imprint in 2014 - talk about the opportunity to meet with someone who's a leading figure in the publishing industry!

I came away from this retreat ready to tackle the revisions of my YA novel and very aware of the WORK that goes into being a truly successful published author. I definitely recommend attending a retreat, workshop, conference, speech, or class to re-energize your own writing and to always, always keep learning and aspiring for more and better.

On Wednesday, I'll share the specific work we did in our workshops, passing along some of the great information I came away with. See you back here then!