My writer’s group held a hybrid in-person/on-line workshop this month. Since I’ve missed the company of other writers since COVID changed the way we do business, I went to the in-person part. There weren’t a lot of us in the room, but man, was it good to reconnect. I know on-line offerings use the word “connect” but electronic connections are not at all like human connections. So, before the workshop ever began, I was in a positive frame of mind. Here are some of my takeaways from the afternoon.
- When the presenters from DarlingAxe.com started their talk, I was totally engaged. The title of the workshop was “Killing Your Darlings,” which is a common concept among writers and a play on the company name so it is not surprising that the afternoon was filled with wisdom and laughter and some basic writing advice dressed in new clothes. ( Kill your Darlings is writer shorthand for cutting out flowery, unnecessary words that please your creative side but do nothing for the story.)
- One often hears experienced writers complaining that craft workshops have nothing to teach them but I disagree. There is always something new to learn. For years I’ve been hearing about “stimulus and response,” “scene and sequel” and it didn’t help me a bit when it came to the actual writing of my story. Sometimes intellectual concepts provide knowledge without striking the emotional chord a writer — and a reader — needs.Michelle Barker and David Griffin Brown talked about “causality.” i.e. every scene requires a character to make a decision. That decision propels the story into the next scene. This is not a new concept, but, for me, the language was new and effective. While they talked I pondered the short story I’m writing for my newsletter readers. I knew it had problems because what my main character wanted was a negative. i.e. she didn’t want Christmas.
- One of the creative concepts presented was the “thread test.” This is a way to test if your idea can translate into a story. It goes like this: when A happens, B must do C before D. A is the inciting incident, B is the protagonist, C is the conflict and D equals consequences. Eventually those consequences should lead the protagonist — and the reader — to the goal of the story. In the case of romance that goal is happily ever after.
- As the afternoon progressed, aspects of story-telling were presented, examined, and remade. By the time we got to quitting time, I’d managed to rethink my Christmas story into action instead of static emotion. I’d given the heroine an achievable goal and I’d created scenarios which would prevent her from getting it. In other words, I’d made a rudimentary outline. For a pantser that was an amazing accomplishment.
- When I celebrated my last birthday, I considered dropping out of my writing group. It had become a chore. I volunteered on the administrative team, but I wasn’t feeling the joy. I missed the people. In the end, I gave it another year. I’m so glad I did.If you’re struggling with your writing, I highly recommend finding a supportive writing group, taking courses, meeting up with a critique group — anything to give you real, live, human contacts. Artificial Intelligence is getting better at doing our work but it isn’t a friend. It isn’t a hug on a bad day. It isn’t a cheerleader when you finally finish that manuscript.