I’m excited. This week I’m starting an online workshop with Writers Victoria – Writing Children’s Stories with Jane Godwin. Jane is a prolific Australian author and I’m looking forward to getting her, and the other participants, opinion on my work (and, I’ll admit, a little nervous).
Getting feedback is always a little bit confronting. Writing is so a often a solitary pursuit, but eventually you get to a place where you have to share your work with others. I’m a big believer that art, all art whether it’s in the written work, or visual or performance, is only meaningful when an audience can interact with it.
Sometimes, your audience might not interact with it in the way that you hope. Even so, if you want to grow in any artistic medium, you have to be open to that.
I’d love to know, how do you handle feedback of your work? And, how are you at giving it to others?
This morning I walked the kids to school and then kept walking up to the cafe at the local supermarket, with the idea that I would get a mocha and drink it as I walked home. Somewhere between the school and the cafe, the $50 note that I had stuffed in my jeans pocket (because, I didn’t want to carry my purse with me) fell out. When I got to the counter, I put my hand in my pocket and ta-da, it have vanished.
Why am I telling you this? Well, firstly because it’s really given me the irrits and I want to share that with you, but mainly (and most importantly) because it’s a great example of how we – and therefore so should our characters – focus on what’s important to us in the moment, not on everything that’s around us.
My walk up to the cafe was lovely. I noticed the grass, and the sky, the clouds rolling over which made me think about how it’s meant to rain this afternoon. I smiled at mums walking home from the school with toddlers and preschoolers. The walk home was different. I noticed every leaf and piece of rubbish that caught the light and could, at a distance, be mistaken for a shiny plastic note. I looked intently at corners and fences where a note, picked up by the wind, might have lodged.
Instead, we take in what’s most important to us at the time. And that’s as true for our characters as it is for us. Let’s say your protagonist’s crush walks into the room with his/her best friend in tow. Chances are, all your character’s focus is going to be on that one person. They’re not going to notice what the best friend is wearing, or if they do it won’t be until they’ve taken every aspect of their crush. Hell, I know the guy I had a crush on in school had freckles on his ear-lobes, like little brown studs. Who else do you think noticed that?
Now, let’s say their crush walks in with an attractive stranger or their girlfriend/boyfriend. Your protagonist will definitely take note of that, won’t they? Maybe even before anything else. This person is a threat. A direct obstacle between them and the person they want to be with. They might never act to get rid of this threat, but they’ll still recognise it.
The point is, while you might want to describe how the clouds are wafting across the sky, or the meticulous detail on the birthday cake that’s being rolled out, you need to consider if that is actually what your character cares about in the moment. Because, if it’s not, your wasting your readers time, and a valuable chance to give insight into your character.
Yesterday evening, I had to do something scary. Or, be brave – which is the same but makes me sound better. So, I was being brave. I went to a writing group meeting at my local library and everyone in attendance read out a five minute piece of work. In front of everyone else. I didn’t know anyone.
See how brave I am?
The thing is, even though I read too fast and half-way through was distracted by the thought that I hadn’t washed my teeth after dinner (I didn’t remember until the end that I hadn’t had dinner yet), it was great. I met nice people, with similar interests, who gave me some feedback on my work (and my reading speed). No one booed me off the stage or made me cry, no stood up and shouted, “you’re a fake!” and I managed to not spontaneously combust.
And if I can do it, you can too.
What’s more, chances are your library or neighbourhood house does something similar. And, if not, you my find that there’s a writers’ group in your community. From attending this one event, I’ve learnt about a group in a town ten minutes from mine and I’m going to visit next week. Maybe we’ll be a good fit for each other, maybe we won’t but I won’t lose anything by going and there really is so much to gain from having your work critiqued (fancy word for constructive feedback) by others.
Don’t be put off by your age, either. The librarian running last night’s even told me that she’s headed up a youth writing group in the main library for the past three years, so seek out something similar at your library or suggest it to your librarian. Or maybe you could encourage your English teacher to start one at school. It is definitely daunting sharing your work with others, but in a safe and respectful environment, it can also be really exhilarating
Do you already share your work with others? Or, do you have a writing group you go to? I’d love to hear about it.
If you’ve been with me for a while it will be no surprise to you when I say that I’m passionate about education. There are very (very) few people in this world with the sort of talent that means they have nothing to learn. And, with the school holidays just around the corner for many young people in Australia, you have the perfect chance to focus on your passion for writing.
City Kids/In Person Workshops
There are writing workshops, courses and camps in various cities around Australia, planned with the school holidays in mind. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything relevant/current for South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia or Queensland. You may want to check out the next section. Please note that I do have a Writers Victoria membership, but I’m not affiliated with these groups in any other way, nor have I used these courses.
I grew up in the country and while there are many great things about being a country kid, having access to a range of opportunities (and the public transport to get you there) is not one of them. Here are a couple of courses/workshops that can be completed online, wherever you happen to be in the country (or world). Please note that I have worked with the author Dee White before, and found her to be an excellent mentor, but I am not affiliated with her or any other of these groups beyond that.
If you do decide to have a go at any of these courses I would love to hear your experience. The best way for any of us to get better as writers and authors is to keep writing and keep learning, and I hope that you give yourself the opportunity to do so.
I have been all over the place for the last couple of weeks, doing chores, finding out why our cat is pooing in inappropriate places and getting ready for KidLitVic2019. Luckily for you, this post is about that conference and not about the cat’s new toilet habits.
This is the fourth year that I’ve been to KidLitVic and it never fails to leave me energised, enthusiastic and wiser. This year, as with last year, it was held in the beautiful Melbourne Town Hall. There’s something so inspiring about a building that is both old and beautiful. There were a number of different panels, manuscript assessments from publishers, master classes run by publishers and, for the first time, up close and personal groups (which I didn’t do this year, but might if they’re available next year).
The best part of the conference, for me, is meeting other writers and for this reason alone I would encourage you to attend a writing conference. Meeting other people who are on the same journey as you, each at various stages of that journey, is exhilarating. Meeting people who know what you are talking about when you mention your manuscript, your hook, your saggy middle or anti-climax-of-a-climax is a relief.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the writing community is one of the most open, friendly and welcoming communities I have ever come across. I have yet to meet a writer (or publisher for that matter) who wasn’t warm, enthusiastic and generous with their time and knowledge. What’s more, being surrounded by that makes it easy to be generous with your own time and knowledge.
Conferences can be expensive but they’re worth saving for. If you really don’t have the money to put towards something like a conference (and let’s face it, it’s not just the conference but travel, food and sometimes accommodation you have to factor in), then consider being a volunteer. While you will be working, you will still be able to listen in on panel discussions and mingle with other writers and publishers through out the day.
If you believe Alan Watts, author of The 90-Day Novel, dilemma is the driving force of any story. But what does that actually mean?
Dilemma is a rhetorical device (the use of language to create effect or meaning) in which the character has to choose between two options, both equally as feasible, with one positioned as the ‘right’ or ‘positive’ choice and the other as the ‘wrong’ or ‘negative’ choice. It’s often the choice between what the character wants and what the character believes (wrongly) to be true.
An example might be:
I want to be true to myself, but I don’t want to disappoint my family.
The desire here is to be true to one’s self, the false belief is that, by being true to yourself, you’ll disappoint your family or lose their love.
I want to travel the world, but I don’t want to miss out on what’s happening at home.
Again, the desire is the ‘I want…” statement and the false belief is the ‘But…’ statement.
For the two novels I’m currently working on, my protagonists’s dilemmas were (for Maggie) “I want to honour my own needs, but I don’t want to let my family down’ and (for Stuart) “I want to be invulnerable so I can’t be hurt” (the desire is to be invulnerable/strong and the false belief is that being vulnerable leads only to pain).
A key point that Watts makes is that a dilemma can’t be solved (unlike a problem). The dilemma is resolved, it’s brought to a conclusion over the course of the story, but there are multiple ways in which the character can achieve this, and it might not be in the way they initially wanted. Thinking in terms of dilemmas brings depth to your work, because there is no clear right or wrong and what one character decides is right for them, another character might never even have considered (which is pretty true of life).
Let’s look at a recent (ish) movie, Disney’s Moana.
Moana’s problem is clear – her world is being killed by the Darkness and it must be stopped. But her dilemma is more complicated and interesting. She wants to follow her heart and leave her island, but she doesn’t want to disappoint her father and abandon her duties to her people. (Desire – to follow her heart, False Belief – that she must be an obedient daughter in order to serve her people) Ultimately, Moana resolves this dilemma by following her heart and bringing a new age of exploration and prosperity to her people.
The idea of a dilemma in literature isn’t new, but, although I haven’t read his book, I like the way Watt explains it.
I feel that thinking in terms of dilemma is adding a new depth to my work, and a different way of framing my work, outside of a problem that must be solved. What do you think? Have thought about your characters’s dilemma before? Is it useful in your work?
I’ve talked about the importance of voice before (you can find that here), and about how finding your unique author’s voice takes time, patience and practise. I want to clarify author voice further in this post.
A visceral reaction is the physical feeling that often accompanies an emotional response to an experience or event. Think about the last time you were excited about something – the way your fingers and toes tingled and you felt a little bit light headed. That is a visceral response.
Visceral responses are great tools in the ‘show, don’t tell’ toolbox. You show your character being afraid (She looked over the edge of the cliff and her stomach clenched) rather than telling the reader she’s frightened (She looked over the edge of the cliff and felt afraid). There also a great way of showing the reader, hey this is real. This character feels things just as you’d expect them to if they were real.
A while ago a new friend and I discovered that we both wrote, and he asked me what my process was. I was surprised. I’d never been asked that before, but I had to admit that my “process” was getting home from dropping the kids off at school, making a cup of tea, and sitting down and banging out the words. Continue reading “The Writing Process”→