Thursday, November 14, 2013

Story Masters Workshop

This past weekend I spent 4 days at the Story Masters Workshop, put on by Free Expressions.  Several people from my writing group went to this last year in Seattle and they lobbied hard to have it brought to the Twin Cities this year.  How glad I am that they did.

Based on their recommendation nearly everyone from my writing group attended the workshop this year (including those who went last year), as well as several others from Jane's groups, the Hamline MFA program, and many other area writers.  The workshop consisted of one day each with Christopher Vogler (Author of The Writer's Journey; it's awesome, read it), James Scott Bell, and Donald Maass.  On the fourth day the three of them together led a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I've never had a time like this when I was able to dedicate days to writing: learning and thinking about my own stories.  It was amazing.  Each of the three had a different approach to writing, but I found that they all complemented each other and that they offered a variety of tools to use, depending on what most needs work in your story.  It allowed me to better understand why something works or doesn't work, and if it doesn't, how to go about fixing it (not to mention I have a better understanding of what's going on when something does work).  I also left with a long list of movies to add to my Netflix queue. :-)

I was impressed too by how approachable each of these men were.  They took questions during break, and they shared an attitude of "Here's what I've learned, now you can use it too."

All through the workshop I had ideas about how I can take The Mighty Carrot even further.  I have notes about rewriting the beginning, about how to fix the climax, and other moments that will add to the story as a whole.  One of my top takeaways was what Donald Maass said about not writing objective description - instead, give us the sense of place through the impressions and emotions of the character.  I struggle with description and I can already see that this is going to be a powerful tool.  (And he's right, I do as a reader skim over those long paragraphs of description!)

Another common thread was of the importance of emotion.  I think it was Donald Maass who said, "A story isn't the plot."  Rather it's the emotional journey of the protagonist, which is externalized in the events of the plot.

Several of us from my group met the other day to talk and debrief about what we had learned.  I spent a lot of my time during breaks and at lunch with those I knew discussing these ideas in the context of our stories.  I found it was very helpful to have those discussions with those who knew what I was writing, as it helped make the ideas more concrete.  It's going to take awhile for me to think through all of this, and apply it to Carrot, but I'm excited to do just that.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


I've done NaNoWriMo before, but this year, as I've started to write picture books, I'm participating in PiBoIdMo - Picture Book Idea Month.  The concept is simple: come up with an idea for a picture book every day for 30 days.  It's hosted by author Tara Lazar over at her blog.  So far it's day 2 and I've come up with 4 ideas, so here it goes for the rest of the month!