Month: March 2021

The World Needs Romance Authors

holding up the worldI think the world, particularly journalists and politicians, needs to take a lesson from romance writers on how to critique.

Now that the COVID-19 crisis is moving into a new, and hopefully, end stage, all the pundits are out assessing who did what when, and complaining it wasn’t enough, was too much, was too late, missed the mark, etc. etc. Maclean’s, which bills itself as Canada’s magazine, published its latest issue with a black cover and the headline, “report on Canada’s mishandling of the crisis of the century.” In a time when we’re all struggling to maintain our mental health, this cover felt like a slap in the face.

As romance writers we’re taught that the critique is meant to be helpful to the author. It is not meant to destroy her writing dream. It is not a place for the critiquer to promote herself or her ideas. We learn to sandwich our criticism between layers of praise. The end result is to encourage the newbie writer to keep trying, to keep learning and to get better. If a critique results in the would-be-author giving up, the person writing the critique has failed.

To be fair,  Maclean’s did highlight bright spots in Canada’s response to COVID-19, most notably the response of individuals who found ways of helping out whether it was turning distilleries into makers of hand sanitizer, car manufacturers retooling to make PPE, or the compassion and dedication of health workers. Still, the overall tone of the magazine was negative.

Governments and their actions need to be scrutinized, I’m not denying that. But if the scrutiny is based on 20/20 hindsight without any recognition of the moment when decisions were made, it is unfair. If the analysis is intended to push a political agenda, that serves only one party, it is suspect. As with any great event in history, our response to COVID-19 should be examined. We should look for ways to do better. We should recognize that another pandemic can occur. We need critical thinking. But we also need people willing to take on the enormity of government. Given the level of personal attack and smear campaigns that are becoming standard practice, I wonder anyone even wants to run for office.

Politicians, agencies and public administrators will make mistakes. Pundits make mistakes too, but they are never headline news. If a journalist predicts a disaster and the disaster does not happen, that “expert” is not vilified in the press. There will be barely a mention of the miscalculation. Yet public figures are excoriated on everything from their policy statements to their hairstyles.  

I remember a conversation with an optimist once who complained that even the weather report listed 40% chance of showers. “That’s 60% chance of sunshine,” he grumbled. “Why not say it that way?”

As an optimist, I’m on his side. As a citizen I expect my leaders to put every ounce of effort into keeping me safe. I expect them to use science, technology, tradition and research to develop plans to make my country a place where every citizen is cared for and valued. As Maclean’s points out, there are many areas where we could have done better. But to imply that it was all a disaster is incorrect and serves only to fuel cynicism and distrust at a time when we need confidence and team spirit. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and all that.

Magazine’s like Maclean’s give no space to romance writers but they could certainly learn something about collegiality and encouragement from us.

Hits: 212

On Being a Student – Again

doing homeworkMoving along in Laurie Schnebly’s “Plotting via Motivation” course. . .I’ve learned that taking a workshop on-line instead of in person has some surprising benefits. The most important one for me is thinking time. I’m no good at those brainstorming sessions where everyone in the room calls out possibilities and questions. My ideas need time to brew. They grow from a glimmer to a beacon when they can swirl around in my brain for a while, so when I complete my homework assignment, I’m satisfied that I’ve answered the right questions. 

Another surprise is my pleasure in doing homework. I shouldn’t be. I liked school and homework was part of the package.  The best part of homework is getting it back with the teacher’s comments. An in-person class doesn’t allow the presenter enough time to do that. With the on-line course I get a personal response from Laurie on each assignment. That is so helpful because it deals with the particulars of my story, not just the generalities of plotting.

There is one aspect of the course that is no surprise. I’m terrible at plotting! The beginning comes together fairly well and I know how it should end, but that dratted middle sags in an exercise as much as it does in a full-length novel. Hence, one of the reasons I took this class.  

And that brings me to another reason I’m taking this class. Laurie Schnebly is a terrific teacher. She infuses her lectures with clear examples from various genres so whether  students write horror or romance, adventure or shape-shifters, they can feel at home in the class. 

Finally, I’m becoming intrigued with this character I made up just for practice. Who knows I may find a full-fledged novel here, or at least a short story. 

As the garden work picks up I find myself doing a lot of math. I need to know how much fertilizer to apply per square foot. So I need to determine the square footage. I need to convert tablespoons to cups. How many cubic meters in my wheelbarrow? How many litres in a gallon? When I left school I had hoped to be done with arithmetic forever but it is essential to modern life. Similarly with this writing homework. I hope the lessons learned here will prove useful for the rest of my writing career.

Over the years I’ve taken many workshops from some of the best in the business. I like the personal contact. I enjoy meeting other writers. It’s fun to get a day away from home with lunch laid on. I have a whole file drawer full of the notes and handouts from those workshops. When I read the notes I’m convinced I should be able to write a novel just by following the pattern set out for me. Yet, somewhere along the way, I just can’t get my thoughts to fit into the pattern presented. Having Laurie’s personal feedback makes this workshop special. I highly recommend it. You can see her upcoming classes offered through writeruniv.

This sounds like a total fan-girl article because it is. Feel free to add the names of your own favourite teachers in the comments below.

Hits: 277

Motivation

old fashioned classroomThis week I’ve started an on-line course with Laurie Schnebly Campbell, Plotting via Motivation. We’re at the stage of introducing ourselves. Turns out, we’re a mixed bag of day job writers, homemaker writers, retired from the day job writers, empty-nest writers and writers juggling it all! 

What, I wondered, is the motivation for these various types to take a writing course? From the introduction letters I found

  • Repeaters–those who’ve taken one of Laurie’s courses before and loved it.
  • Those stuck on a wip and looking for guidance.
  • Those looking for a change after being under COVID rules for a year.
  • Newbies wondering what it’s all about.
  • Experienced authors wanting to improve their craft

I could put myself into any of those categories or all of them. I’m bored after a year of mostly staying home. I’ve been to Laurie’s in-person classes and loved them. I’m stuck on a wip but want to try a brand new idea for this exercise. Mostly though, I want to shake myself up. I feel my writing and my motivation have gotten stale.

When I was first published the only option was traditional publishers. So the goal was to get your ms in front of an acquiring editor, followed by the goal of getting her to buy your work. The motivation for that effort varied from personal achievement to making some money to validating the hours I spent at the computer, putting my ideas out into the world.

With the legitimization of self-publishing, a lot has changed. Now, if the goal is to get words in front of readers, there are many avenues. If the goal is to make money, the self-published author has much more responsibility for managing her publishing business. As for validation, does that mean ten people read my work? 100? 10,000? 100,000? Does traditional publishing or self-publishing hold out the most promise for achieving the goal? Am I suited to the “go it alone” technique or would I be better off working with a publishing house? Knowing my own motivation will help answer some of these questions. I think a month devoted to working out character motivation might help me get a handle on my own.

Apart from all of the above, I enjoy mingling with other writers. I find creative people interesting and full of surprises. Like this one, shared by a classmate. It’s called the plot generator.  https://writingexercises.co.uk/plotgenerator.php   

The site gives you six elements of a story, main character, secondary characters, setting, theme, situation and character action. You click on the buttons and up pops an answer in each of the elements. If you don’t like the first suggestion, click it again for a second suggestion. The ideas are totally random. It reminds me of a present I got at Christmas when I was about ten.  A box containing about 30 text covered 5×7 inch cards in different colours offered an endless variety of stories. Any pink card combined with a yellow, blue, green, purple and gold card yielded a cohesive story. Change any of the cards for another of the same colour and you got a different story. It was very clever. I have no idea now what it was called or who was the genius who figured out how to write a story with so many interchangeable segments but the plot generator seems similar to me.

Laurie wants us to work on a new idea. I have a file labelled “story ideas” that never got developed. If I can’t find something in there that appeals, I may go to the plot generator. After all, the class is an exercise in motivation, not the “story of my heart.”

Questions: Does anyone remember that story box idea from long, long ago? Do you know what it was called? Please e-mail me writersstudio@shaw.ca or leave a comment below if you can fill in the blanks of my memory.

Hits: 66

© 2021 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑