I'm back from Eckerd College's Writer's in Paradise Conference and thought I'd share some of my notes, mostly the gems I hope to remember. Some of what I heard was a repeat of material I heard at the conference two years ago. But I realized while I was there that I learn in layers. Maybe we all do. Each lesson learned opens the door for deeper understanding of old lessons. The faculty and staff at Eckerd are fanatstic. They offer a packed week of energetic learning and motivation. I was honored to share my writing with the talented writers in my workshop. There's a sense that everyone there cares about growing your writing.
Ann Patchett was the keynote speaker so I'll start with my notes from her speech:
Ann Patchett: She spends a long time building a story in her head before she writes the first word. The book is the dead thing she creates from the beautiful story in her head. She's says we need to forgive ourselves for our inferior efforts to transfer that story to written word. Do the best you can and accept it. Every time she writes, she’s confronted by her lack of talent.
Learn to write a short story and you’ve learned to write a chapter. If you aren’t sure of a chapter’s thrill, make it short. If the chapter has material that readers can’t stop reading, make it long.
She writes the first draft chronologically so she discovers what the characters discover when they discover it.
Research either in the middle of the book or the end. Then forget it so you don’t have the urge to show readers all you know on the subject.
She uses the Visual Dictionary.
Daniel Woodrell: He studied Hemingway to learn to take readers inside the story in succinct sentences and paragraphs. He doesn’t know the heart of his story until he’s made two or three attempts. After fifty pages, he hits a groove and the chapter he’s writing feels like it’s connecting with the beginning; the story makes sense.
Don’t hype your characters or force plot on them. And don’t protect them. He fights an urge to defend his characters, to save their reputation, make them look good.
Each day, he reads all he's written of the draft before he types new words. Asked if he had 250 words written, did that mean he read all 250 words? His answer . . . yes. Mind blowing, isn't it?
Notes from Michael Koryta's Narrative Lecture:
Any word next to a period plays jazz.
Place shorter words and paragraphs at the points of greatest complexity.
For clarity, slow the pace. Short sentences make the reader read slowly.
Control the pace of the story with sentences. Long sentences create a flow that carries the reader down a stream of understanding.
Establish the conflict first; then paint the world.
If a character points out the shotgun on the mantle, that gun needs to play a key role later in the book.
Character’s emotion should change from scene to scene, arc from one emotion to another. It’s imperative that we see how events change the character. It’s not how the character works on the plot, it’s how plot works on the character.
Always increase obstacles and challenges, never decrease.
Look for scenes that can tie into the story as subplot. Subplots drive toward the main story.
Mark manuscript with Ds (dramatic/in-the-moment narrative) and Ss (summary) to measure the balance of show and tell.
To play with stretching and condensing time, write one to two pages about a small event (like eating an ice-cream cone); then condense a long chunk of time in one or two paragraphs.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor