Tag Archives: Writing Workshops

Writers Coloring Box

I have had a eureka experience I have to share. I read voraciously. I think it is an essential part of the universe, readers write or perhaps better writers read. I have favorite authors at all levels of the stratosphere from epub to mid-list to NYT best sellers. There are certain qualities I fall in love with that causes their work to be a keeper for me.

Throughout this journey I have pondered good writing. At first I thought perhaps it was a sense of quality plot. All the I’s dotted and T’s crossed that the threads came together at the end with a plausible believable resolution. That became an ingredient to the stew but certainly more was indicated in my recipe for quality writing.

Next I considered character. All my keepers have great characters. People I want to take the journey with. People I grow to care about. People who are believable with their own imperfections and totally multi dimensional. They could be my friends. They exhibit a character growth through the book to become better on their own pathway through life.

Some day I want to meet Judith Ehrlich She was a final round Judge in the Beacon unpublished 2010 and gave my entry a thorough critique. She was detailed and objective. She is also a shrewed insightful woman. In the thirty something pages she critiqued for the contest, she said a lot of wonderful good things. Things that made me laugh and clap my hands like a six year old whose momie liked the rainbow I drew.

However, some very real problematic issues arose. I have a lot to thank her for in taking the time to make that critique and the tone that she used both encouraging yet honest without guile. References to weak writing and that my heroine was a “prop” for the two dynamic heroes. Now before my friends get out their pitchforks and get all up-de-up. Let me say — I understood perfectly what she said and I agree. I love my “boys” I have a wonderful male voice in my writing. My heroes leap off the page. My girls fell flat.

I spent about four months reading strong heroines. I wrote fan fiction for myself playing with a female character I admired. She was strong yet vulnerable and I understood her well. As a result, I acquired a good female voice for my heroines. I recognized character is another essential element to quality. Yet, she said weak writing so there was more.

Along this same line and about the same time my main critique partner and I spent an evening talking about writing. She had received a series of encouraging requests. First for 20 pages, then 20 more, then 20 more. I don’t know why they didn’t just request the whole thing. But that is how it went. I agonized for her each time the agent requested twenty more pages. We just knew this was it. A contract had to be in the works.

Please allow me to digress a little bit and say other than my own writing. I adore my critique partner’s work. Her stories are vivid, the pieces come together at the end and are threaded along the way. I love the people she creates. I mean really love them. I wish they were my people. I want to wrap them up and take them home and hear all about their lives forever and every. I could go on. She is one of the smartest women I know and I am so grateful for her influence in my writing through her excellent critique. Okay, okay so stage set.

So, why on EARTH after sixty pages did they reject her work saying all the right things, all the good things about the Manuscript, the plot, the characters — but….always the but… Something like– the writing just wasn’t consistently strong enough.

WTF? Consistently strong enough? *see the incredulous expression on MY face* It really threw me for a loop. If my C.P’s work wasn’t ‘consistently strong enough’ what did I have to offer. I call myself blessed to creep in her shadow as a minion.

It caused me to do a lot of thinking. I looked over comments I had received from judges in the contests both first round and final round. I suppose I was struggling with what it meant to have weak writing. Don’t think that I just fell off the turnip truck yesterday. I have a deck of cards that I made that I roll through in the editorial phase. I will be talking about those cards in future blogs. Those cards helped me find some of the obviously rookie mistakes writers make. Each card has a little reminder of something to screen the manuscript for. I’m not talking about those superficial things. It is deeper than that. After all the editing was complete and I couldn’t find anything else…. there was still the “weak writing” comments. I didn’t understand how to change or avoid it.

Last night I started reading a writers reference book and “Sokath His eyes uncovered” A little tiny book put understanding to the concepts I’ve been exploring and coming to terms with for a year.

I am going to spend some blog time talking about weak writing. How to recognize it. How to avoid it. My disclaimer is that this is not a lesson mastered. It is a lesson in progress. I yearn for the day when I will be a strong writer.

Okay, so in getting ready for this journey together…. What does it mean to you to be a weak writer or a strong writer? Perhaps you have it all figured out and I’m sitting on the floor of the short bus all alone. Leave a comment about your thoughts on weak writing.

Craft Resources

This week has been fraught with emotional ups and downs. Coming down from the Writers Retreat last weekend, high high high point of the year. Many ah ha moments.

Lightening did not strike me on Thursday. I have a heart but it won’t be golden this year.

It caused me to think about resources for writers. I’m not really thinking of self help type books but more resources that helped you along the way. No not really the big book of paranormal creatures that’s on my shelf. I can research on the internet. No not an alphabetical listing of all the big “R” little “r” rules to remember.

What are your resources as a writer?

Mine are the FCRW chapter I belong to. Also the couple of yahoo groups I maintain membership in.

My FB friends are great. Danica and I have had fun bracketing the week with me sponsoring Fantasy Man Monday and she offering Fantasy Man Friday. Friday’s are hotter.

Ink Plots, the live critique group I’m a member of helps. My Critique Partner is my life line.

I just received the Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines; Sixteen Master Archetypes. Great resource book by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders. It is outstanding.

Does anyone have that book on plot archetypes? I saw it on amazon.

What are your resources that help you both in the actual mechanics of writing and surviving the tough times?

Writing Retreat – FCRW 2010

FCRW Writers Retreat

This past weekend I had a rare treat that advanced my craft learning light years. The FCRW Chapter of RWA hosted a Writers Retreat with Anna DeStefano and Anna Adams

The retreat was held at the beautiful and charming Epworth by the Sea in St Simon’s Island, GA, a Methodist Church retreat facility. The Retreat was organized by our chapter president, Maria Connor An amazing woman, Maria’s author’s voice is a scream. I laughed so hard at one of her scenes I about fell out of the chair. She is a free lance writer and has had several great articles published in recent issues the RWA magazine.

I had several eureka experiences over the weekend. Those of you who have been on this journey with me know the growth arc I’ve been traveling. Suffice it to say that two years ago when I found the FCRW chapter I was on my second organically written book. While that sounds fairly sophisticated let me clarify for the bottom line. . . I vomited words onto the page. Not a pretty picture.

So for the past little-while I’ve been continuing to write with a more thoughtful approach. I’ve been trying to learn to plot, trying to wrestle what I wrote into a marketable format. I’ve been learning conflict, conflict, conflict motivation and goals. I wrote the third book.

I’ve plotted using power point, sticky notes on the wall. Sticky notes falling off the wall sticking to my shoe, butt and computer bag. I’ve recently fallen in love with 4 X 6 Cards for plotting. With help of my lovely and talented critique partner, Charlie Alldredge I pulled the book apart and revised, edited and looked at character progress, filled plot holes. Whew, it ain’t called a writer’s work for nothing, baby.

Friends that read my books LOVE the characters I create. So do I. However, I’m like ‘the little engine that could’ chugging along learning to plot, plot, plot and putting my characters through conflict. Lately in the throes of revising book three and writing book four I started having feelings of unrightness. Not really about the book(s), or about my emerging skills. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. But, something was there. Or rather, something wasn’t there.

Now trust me when I say I would rather poke my eye out with a pencil than write pages of character study charts to help me know why my heroine could never wear lavender panties. If that was the missing link between me and quality writing my little train would have to become a lawn ornament under the bougainvillea.

I’ve pretty much been able to create characters based on my training as a psychologist and the exhausting amount of personality inventory research I’ve been subjected to in the name of team building with my recent day job. I mean seriously, I can tell you what color I am, what letter of the alphabet, extroverted, innovator, briggs myers, bla bla bla ad nauseam. Truthfully it was useful in crafting three dimensional realistic characters but there is a limit to what one woman can take.

The first session with Anna DeStefano blew me away. I wanted to be the love child of the two Anna’s. OMG The session on Character arch was incredibly simple, taught in a hands on experiential manner. The perfect answer to all my anxt and woes.

There is something very liberating to seeing in full clarity what you have been struggling to do in the dark. Somehow wondering if you were right and asking the writing cosmic gods, if there wasn’t a better, easier way to do it. It’s like I’ve been trying to put a puzzle together with a few of the pieces missing. Once Anna provided those pieces in her workshop everything came together. If the collision had escaped my brain the sound would have been deafening.

Bamn to the forehead with the smack of a palm. “She is healed!” The voice thundered. Okay, I got a little carried away there but we were on a church retreat facility. *grins sheepishly*

Dang, I learned, I’m a character driven writer. I can develop my character’s personalities in a well planned conflict lock with each other. “Their character arc is their growth and it’s the plot that’s getting them there.” A.D.

I’m still processing everything but WOW. One of my critique buddies, Shelby Reed said it was the best money ever spent. I’ll add my amen to that.

We had a relaxed schedule with plenty of time to write. The workshops were awesome. We had informal plotting sessions together. Valerie Bowman hosted the cold reads and group critiques of pages. Then we had an opportunity to have individual sessions with the instructors. Amanda, Shelby, Madeline and I teamed up, rolling our appointment times into a group. The four of us trapped Anna DeStefano at the table in a tag team attack and asked our barrage of questions about craft, character advice, business advice, and can we be Face Book stalkers?. . . in the nicest kind of way.

She is a gracious lady and we all wish her success and health. She facilitated giving us all something illusive and precious. . . validation, respect, and friendship.

Write the D@$! Manuscript Challenge

The FCRW (First Coast Romance Writers) sponsor a contest for members of the chapter each year.  It’s called Write the D@$! Manuscript Challenge.  Members are encouraged to just write the D@$! Manuscript.  We try to do fun things along the way to help keep participants encouraged.

So often the more we as writers know the less we are able to do.  We fill our time with all kinds of things.  After the basic rudiments of living, family, home, job, we find other time suckers to keep from writing the D@$! Manuscript. . . my space, face book, twitter, email, research, BLOGGING. oh my.  And frankly we let the Internal Editor from He(( shut us down way to often.

So the Write the D@$! Manuscript challenge is an opportunity to take the time to make writing your priority again.  Rather than the psychological suicide of NaMoWriMo in 30 days, our version gives you an entire year…ok ten months technically, to write a complete story arch accomplishing at least 40,000 words to a finish, the end.

We aren’t even so tough to expect the WIP to be finished and edited, polished and pretty.

So if you’re not convinced that this is a great activity for your writing group, here is what I got out of the D@$! Manuscript challenge of 2009.  I wrote my WIP Dragon’s Mark.  I finished the entire book in draft form between Feb and early October, some 100,000 words of the beast.

I had time to edit the first 30 pages and enter the Beacon Unpublished contest. I edited a little more and entered the Golden Heart.  Edited a little more and entered the Winter Rose.  Now a year later the work is finished, edited and polished pretty and I am beginning to Query and search for Agented Representation.

The entry in the Beacon 2009 won second place.  Still waiting to hear from the others.

The point is I wrote the D@$! Manuscript.  Didn’t matter that I didn’t win the grand prize drawing.  I wrote.

So, now I am beginning the D@$! Manuscript Challenge 2010.  I’m sitting here immersed in social networking and blogging.  I haven’t started work on my manuscript entry.  However, I know I have to have a word count for our meeting in two weeks to report with the other Challenge Participants.  I sure don’t want to be standing there saying well I haven’t really started yet….  So, I’m going to get busy and Write the D@$! Manuscript.

The Story

The story is the foundation of your novel.  I was amazed at the workshop how many people didn’t get the concept of story.  When asked about story people want to tell you everything their characters are doing and what is happening to them.  That isn’t story.  That is plot.  What they do and what happens to them is all about plot.

Next workshop participants wanted to say it’s a story about how courage leads to redemption.  Sorry no, that’s not the story.  That was a great job of identifying the theme.  What we search for we already possess.  Courage leads to redemption.   Good stories have a theme.

Anne McClaire taught us at the writer workshop last week that the story is the engine and GPS of your novel.  Once you know the story everything else falls in place and you won’t get pulled off track in the progress of your plot.

The story is that central idea the little kernel that probably started with “What if?”  the story begins with that flash idea.  Once you get your “What if?” started you begin to ask “Why does it matter?” “and because of that. . . ”  These questions lead to plot development.  Through that “What if?”  and following questions leading to plot, theme, character, and then setting pulls out of that.  The “Why did that happen?” gives you the backstory to mix in as little snipits here a little and there a little.

Story is the Sun of your novel.  Everything revolves around the story.  From the story you can discover the structure, the time and duration of the novel, the POV, the tense.  All those things that create the envelope or framework of the novel and yes the theme and plot components.

Take the challenge to describe your story in 25 words or less.  Doing that exercise will pare away the plot and all the extras that while essential are not the kernel of story.

What you have when you are finished is the answer when an agent or editor asks you “What is your story about?”

It’s the story of:  “A sexy forestry firefighter falls for single mother D.J. who is afraid to trust that love and committment can be forever with a dangerous man.”  25 words.

Take the challenge.  What do you come up with for your story?images1

Novel Discussions: A Workshop for Writers

I attended Novel Discussions:  A Workshop for Writers as part of the Jacksonville Library Much Ado About Books celebration on Friday February 27th.  The day began with Anne LeClaire (NYT Best Selling Author/ Listening Below the Noise)  speaking with the group about ‘Story:  Building It’s Foundation’.  I can’t possibly give a moment by moment report of the entire day in this blog.  You just had to be there.  If I ever have the blessing of attending more of her classes or workshops I will jump on board, nuff said.   Carla Neggers (NYT Best Selling Author / Betrayals) continued as the next speaker teaching ‘Plot, Character and Pace:  The Three Essentials’.  How can anyone possibly wrap those three essentials into a twenty to thirty minute presentation?   She did a great job of nailing the basics, tight and concise.  While still sharing her witty perspective on the creative process.  I have notes highlighting absolutely golden nuggets that will help me improve areas in my writing.  

A bonus lunch time panel discussion of Writing into the Next Century was well attended.

The afternoon sessions began with a question and answer session by David Baldacci ( NYT Best Selling Author/The Whole Truth) and continued with a wrap up by Steve Berry (NYT Best Selling Author / The Charlemagne Pursuit) going over ‘Eight Rules of Writing’ which I believe we expanded to a nice round ten before the afternoon closed.  These guys packed the one two punch for the afternoon to be a total knock out.  Ok, awful pun, but what more can I say.  I was thrilled with the quality of the presentations and wealth of information I gathered that will improve my writing.   Four New York Best Selling Authors, prolific writers, facinating people and the entire thing was FREE.  The event was sponsored by the Jacksonville Library and local businesses.  

Over the next few months I’m going to share on this blog some of the insights I gained attending this workshop.  Did you get to attend this event?  What were your impressions of the day?  Let’s talk about it