Tag: The Creative Academy

7 Thoughts on Plots

Coming off of six weeks of courses on plotting, I’ve reached a few conclusions for myself. Some may be helpful to other writers.

  1. I truly am a pantser. I always thought I just didn’t know how to plot. Now, following the steps of these courses, I have created a complete plot. The problem is, when I tried to write a few scenes I found I’d lost interest.
  2. We pantsers find joy in uncovering the story as it goes along. I know a mystery writer who is half way through the book before she figures out “whodunnit.” If we know the ending and all the turning points in advance, there is no more excitement.
  3. All is not lost. As a pantser I’m often staring at the screen wondering what happens next. I’ve learned a better question is, what do they “do” next. My characters spend too much time drinking tea and thinking.
  4. “Why” is an excellent question at all stages of story-writing. Even when I get my characters into fist-fights or prairie fires, the action may seem random. “Why” they do something is always good to know and will keep the story from wandering.
  5. Time is my friend. I am useless at brainstorming sessions where people fire off ideas like a shotgun. I may take a day to give my character a name, let alone a story. These courses have been deliberately step-by-step. I can use that, even as a pantser.
  6. Romance stories are not formulaic. Any teacher who gives me a formula like — Name —must ———–because ———–, but————–gets in the way, so he———– but then————  Writing to a formula like this freezes my creativity. Fortunately, the courses I just took don’t use that approach.
  7. Even though I’m a committed pantser there are elements of plotting that I can use to improve my process and maybe save myself the frustration of deleting thousands of words.

All in all, I’ve found these six weeks of learning from Laurie Schnebly Campbell most enjoyable and useful. Even putting to bed the notion that if I could only plot in advance I’d be a better writer is worthwhile. Instead of doubting my process, I can use what I’ve learned to refine it. 

I’m constantly uplifted by the generosity of romance writers — their willingness to teach, to share business knowledge, and to encourage and support each other is truly remarkable. In a world that more often turns to cynicism and anger and hate, the example of romance writers offering hope and friendship and a helping hand is something to celebrate.  

Please use the comments section of this post to add your own thoughts on plot.

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On-line Learning

My writing group, VIRA, held our first ever on-line workshop this month. The lovely C.J.Hunt presented a talk on writing short. While guidelines for traditional publishers still call for works of 60,00 or more words, in the world of Kindle, short reads are a “thing” and can lead to a successful career for an author who can put a fully developed story into a limited length. CJ recommended Romancing the Beat, a resource for writers I’ve talked about on this blog.

Although you don’t see the category on Kindle Direct when you self-publish a book, you can get your work into that category with a little ingenuity in your key words. As this is a very popular area, it’s worth the trouble to be sure Amazon lists it in their short reads category. It is one of the searchable topics at Amazon. Typical of Amazon, there are parameters. A fifteen minute read is one category of 1 – 11 pages. The range goes up on fifteen minute increments all the way to two hours or 65-100 pages.  As a writer or a reader, you can target your searches very specifically.

Within the short read category you can search for specific genres like romance or mystery.

Even if you tend to write, or read, longer, C.J. pointed out that writing a short piece is a great way to keep your name out there between longer works. It’s a great way to sell a holiday story, especially Christmas. It’s also a great way to try out something new. As a writer you can dabble in a genre you’ve never tried before without dedicating a huge amount of time. Play around with your shape-shifter idea, put it up as a short read and see what happens. Even if no one is interested, you’re no worse off than when the idea just sat in your to-be-written drawer, plus you’ve gained an insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.

C.J. is a master at marketing and has sold her short works individually, collected into an anthology, and bundled as a box set. 

She is an engaging presenter and left her listeners with an up-beat message about possibilities. In a world that is full of “don’t” I found it encouraging to hear about possibilities.

There was a second takeaway from the workshop, and that had to do with the whole technology thing. Since C.J. didn’t have to travel, her expenses were less. Long distance members who seldom make physical meetings, tuned in from wherever they were in the world. I saw smiling faces I haven’t seen for a year or more. There was a general excitement about re-connecting in the on-line world.

However, once the initial burst of “yay!” “how are you?” “wow, you look great” was over, many participants turned off their video feed and the screen contained a black box with a name in it instead of a face.  Of course, those in attendance could turn their feed back on and ask questions or make comments. Most did not.  So, the camaraderie of a live meeting, was not there.

I have great admiration for C.J. for filling the allotted time mostly by herself. In a live workshop there is banter between presenter and audience. There are questions and comments that may spark a whole other conversation. In this experience of an on-line meeting, that interaction was largely missing, putting the onus on the presenter to have a lot of material to fill the time. I have teacher friends who have been putting their courses on-line since classrooms were closed and they all say how hard it is. So much material to cover. So many unasked questions to anticipate. So much prep work!

All in all, our Saturday gathering with writers over the internet was a positive experience. I learned a lot. I got my audio and video to work properly. (Yes!) The session was recorded, so I can go back and watch what I missed.

It’s a brave new world we’re all experiencing. Thanks to C.J. Hunt for stepping boldly into it.

C.J. is a founding member of The Creative Academy and has put her presentation on-line there. 

What about you? Do you write/read short? Has your preferred reading length changed with the advent of e-books?

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COVID-19 Lessons in Perception

Perceptions of time.

In my part of the world we are beginning our third week of shut-down. On the calendar the past fourteen days look like nothing at all, but in real life it feels like forever since I attended a church service, met a friend for coffee, or popped into the grocery store without lining up.

Perception of reality

I feel like the news reporters at CBC   are my new best friends. I spend more time with them than my actual friends. Interesting to watch the fluffy-haired blonde reporters turning into bed-head brunettes. Vik Adhopia is bald so his style has not been affected. Who knew hair loss would be an advantage?

Our Prime Minister (who is practising self-isolation because his wife was infected with COVID-19) appears on television every morning with the latest word from government. There have been missteps along the way, but when one considers the enormity of the task I have to take my hat off to the elected politicians and to the civil servants who are rolling out massive bailout packages at a phenomenal speed.

Websites must be built to handle millions of applications all at once.

Personnel must be deployed to process all those millions of applications within ten to fourteen days.

When one is waiting for the money, that seems a very long time, but from the administrative side, that is lightning fast.

Perception of Nature

At a time when the virus is making us close in, hunker down, and worry, spring has still come to my part of the world. While the virus narrows our outlook, spring appears with open hands, flinging beauty far and wide, free of fear or restraint.   I found this lovely lady at the end of my street yesterday.  I share her with you and hope your heart will lift as mine.

 

Perception of Kindness

There are many examples of kindness to be found just now. Children put hearts in the windows to say thank you to essential workers. Residents bang pots and pans at shift change at the hospital, to say thank you to medical staff. Our local distillery started making hand sanitizers instead of gin and a local delivery company offered to distribute them to fire halls and emergency rooms. Neighbours are helping neighbours — I’ve picked up groceries for some of my housebound friends–families are finding imaginative ways to keep in contact with relatives in nursing homes. 

Perception of WritersInternational Women's Day

On the writerly front, many authors and groups of authors are offering free classes, free critiques and free jokes to help writers through this trying time.  Close to home, the creative academy, has thrown open their virtual doors and opened up conversations with authors–about writing, about selling, about covers, about self-publishing — just about anything you can name. Three cheers for them.

Another example I found is on Writer Unboxed — you know I’m a fan of that blog. They have taken up the blight of debut authors who have had their book launch events cancelled. Under the tag of Helping Fellow Authors in the Age of COVID 19, they have invited debut authors whose events have been cancelled to pitch their book on Writer Unboxed.  Writerly kindness in spades!

Perception of a hero

A crisis brings out both the best and the worst in people–those of you emptying the shelves of toilet paper, just stop it!

But there are many more examples of individuals, companies and governments going flat out to help their neighbours. Kudos to all of you, and especially to authors. While we’re all stuck at home, we need stories. We need writers to take us on a journey of the imagination. We need writers who make us laugh, writers who make us cry and writers who show us the possibilities beyond today.

As I heard a closed restaurateur remark from his closed business, “chin up.”  

If you’ve got a COVID-19 story–it can be funny or profound or heartwarming– please share in the comments below.

 

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Character and More

Vancouver Island Romance Authors held its annual all-day workshop last weekend with presenter Eileen Cook. Eileen is a member of The Creative Academy and one terrific teacher. Before becoming a successful YA author, she studied psychology and worked as a counsellor. Using that training and experience she is able to provide unique insights into personalities — both real and fictional — that helps her to create complex, interesting and captivating characters. She shared some of her wisdom with us.

One of her hints in the first part of the workshop was to create a character timeline from birth to page one of your novel, from that character’s pov. If an event was positive, you wrote it above the line, if negative, below the line. This showed that, apart from the event itself, we learned the character’s belief about that event, and thus had insight into her motivations and goals.

                  I tried the exercise for my own real life and noticed that many of the events I would have put below the line in real time, in hindsight went above the line. An interesting outcome that matches my optimistic outlook. For a character in a book, having her hang on to the negative might make for a more interesting story.

                Eileen emphasized that “belief” about an event could be more powerful than the event itself. It is the character’s belief about her body, her parents, her job, her boyfriend . . . that creates the consequences that lead to story.  I’ve been watching for that concept in real life. I know a couple who has left their church because they “believe” they can’t make connections. When I look at their circumstances, as an observer, it seems to me they had plenty of friends. Yet, in terms of their action, it is their belief, not my observation that counts.

                Similarly, I look at my heroine, racked by guilt. In my gentle, authorly way, I want to remove her burden and show her she’s not to blame for an accident, but that would be the end of the story. Much better for her to suffer and struggle until, with the love of the hero, she forgives herself.

There were more wonderful lessons during the day, but Eileen ended with a talk about the life of a writer. It ain’t easy! We meet with rejection in the pre-publishing world and we meet with damning reviews in the post-published world. Family, friends and colleagues may ask why we “waste” our time writing “that stuff.”

Mark Twain said: Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

Eileen echoed that advice and encouraged us to use positive self-talk as well as to cultivate supportive friends. VIRA is a lovely group of writers who encourage, engage and empathize with one another. Most writers need something like VIRA, whether it’s a formal organization or a few supportive friends. We want our characters to be kind to children and puppies. We should be kind to ourselves.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. Attendees have all been raving about how inspired they feel, how eager they are to get back into their work, and how many ideas are raging through their imaginations. A workshop that doesn’t end when the day is over is a gift. Thanks, Eileen.

To connect with Eileen about your own writing, go to https://ccscreativeacademy.com/ You’ll benefit from her wisdom along with others.

 

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