Tuesday, 27 May 2014

It is Tuesday and I managed to miss Monday.

Actually I was visiting and travelling home and then could not wait to get into my own bed for a good night sleep. The funny thing about being away is how much coming home feels so good.  So before I type up my notes from the weekend I want to tell you about an exciting opportunity I am going to involve myself in. A man approached the 52 week challenge group and asked for people to design his wedding cake. I thought I would have a go at it and played around with some ideas. The brief was that they wanted a wonky (crooked) three tier cake and it had to have fish and roses on it. It could be any colour and we have until the end of June. The husband to be especially wanted fish. So here is my process.

  This was my first page of ideas with some roses and koi and a four tier cake. Then I did a second grey drawing of how I would like to see the cake and my first coloured version. It didn't scan very well and the colours were not as vibrant as I would like.

Finally I settled on this coloured version, changing the hair colour from dark to light to reflect the couple and adding bubbles below the waterfalls.  The bower of roses to shade the couple supplies the roses for the impending bride and gives a place for some romantic hearts and the fish(koi) would be 3D and sit out from the edge of the cake. Lots of marzipan and food colouring. 

Okay back to the weekend notes.

Short Story  workshop with Kristen 9-12am   Saturday 24th May 2014
What if… using our imagination to decide how a what if will impact our character
What if there is a challenge to the status quo, some major change
What if there is an alternative narrator
            A different time, a different agenda, different information, switch the focus, different viewpoint
What if there is a challenge to the character
            What are the characters pressure points
·         Fear
·         Ego
·         Loves
·         Dreams
·         Secrets
·         Goals
·         Weaknesses
·         aversions
·         longings
·         drivers
·         motivators
·         things that hold the character back
what if there is a dilemma or a surprise
            a sudden appearance, a new person, turning points, something hangs in the balance or something at stake.

NB: It is important to know our characters really well so we can know how they will react and respond

Activity: Participant were given approximately five minutes to write a character into a scenario where they challenged the status quo.  Dot points only

Established group: Parents and friends association in a private boarding school
·         women wear beige or grey and the men wear suits
·         neat
·         quiet
·         conservative
·         hairdresser coifs
·         no children in the room
·         polite
·         take turns
·         their own children were bottle fed by the au pair or nanny
·         flamboyant mismatched colourful clothing
·         hair in disarray
·         brings children to the meeting
·         breast feeds the five year old
·         interrupts the flow of the meeting to address the child’s needs
·         outspoken on issues
·         child is a scholarship student
·         practices NVC and explains to them in minute detail what that means
Activity: participants were asked to put a character in a situation that challenged them (five minutes)

Situation: SES volunteer with a fear of heights has to climb a fire tower to reach the spotter who may have had a heart attack.

Rod looked straight up at the tower and swallowed.
“Move Rod, every second counts.” Bree clipped on the ropes. “I’ll go first, follow me up with the sling.” He watched her grab the rung above her head and swing herself up. The world seemed to sway around him and he grabbed a rung to halt his falling.
“Rod, come on. MOVE.” Bree’s voice floated down.
There was a man up there. Heart attack. Needed help. Rod put his foot on the bottom rung. His hands were slick with sweat. He wiped them one at a time on the rough fabric of his trousers.
“Focus on me Rod. One rung at a time. I need you up here.” Rod looked at the soles of her boots and focussed on the tread.
One rung, breathe, another, breathe, hand, foot, hand, foot.
Bree’s feet came into clearer focus.
“Keep looking at me Rod. Almost there. Only a few rungs to go. You can do it!” Bree crooned in a firm tone keeping Rod focussed on the goal.
The last run. He watched Bree swing onto the platform, her feet dangling  over 100 metres of nothing. Rod’s heartbeat increased and no amount of swallowing could wet his mouth. Bree’s face appeared in the gap.
“Rod I need you here. Just let go the ladder and swing onto the platform. Focus on my face.”
Rod grabbed the platform with trembling hands. He hauled the top of his body onto the boards. His imagination slicked the timber.
(At this point Kristen asked us to stop writing.)

We had a brief discussion about magic realism.  Professor Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe. poetry workshop participants arrived and we all had some vegetarian lunch since there were 16 vegetarians amongst the 30ish participants.

1-4pm Saturday The afternoon session was with Sherryl Clark and was focussed on
Editing and revision.
Sherryl described the overview of the session as being about looking at our manuscripts from
The long range

The medium range

Close up
In the long range view we were told to take a step back and look at the big picture and ask specific questions such as Who is the anticipated audience of this work? What is the plot? What is the journey both internal and external of the characters? What genre is it?
Sherryl spoke about using scene cards and a diagonal tension line running across a board. Each card would have a single scene written on it. She suggested that by placing the cards where they fall on the tension line we can gain a visual perspective of how the tension and action sits in our various scenes and thus judge the level of tension in any given scene. Very active and high tension scenes are often followed by a review and breather for the reader.
NB: Today’s readers want action openings and rising tension with forward momentum from the very start.

When we write our synopsis we need to Sum up the whole story in one sentence.
Eg This is a story about (character) who does (plot) and in the end has done (resolution/change/twist/conclusion)
Activity: Write a one sentence synopsis of our WIP

I struggled with this activity, writing several attempts and after scribbling out more than a few pages of tries I came up with this synopsis for my novel.

Lucy, a compliant 21 year old, leaves her home on a large Australian farm to travel overseas to escape her difficult family and unknowingly follows in her grandmother’s own youthful footsteps. Both young women return to Australia pregnant and must face the wrath of their families in very different eras. Lucy uncovers secrets left by her Grandmother and learns to stand up for herself find love and reconcile with her brother.
When I read this out Sherryl then said “But what is the climax? What is the major point in the story?”
I added that one of the secrets she finds is that her parents have stolen the farm from her and she must battle them to regain what is rightfully hers.

Sheryl encouraged discussion about making sure a synopsis contains the major crux of the characters journey. The synopsis is not a secret and is not the blurb for the back of the book. It is the one chance to catch the interest of the person who may just publish it and wants to know the story they are looking at is worth putting in the investment.
She suggested we find the book by Donald Maass titled Writing 21st Century fiction and invited us to look at her website.

Mid range view
This is where we ask WHY?
What is the character’s motivation? Is it survival, a desperate need, is it passion?
Is it rock solid and is it convincing for the reader?
“What is your character dying of want of?” – the reader should have a sense of this by the end of page two. ‘’
Deepening Character Emotions.
The next activity involved a lot of colour coding. Sherryl paraphrased the suggested tools of colour coding random pages from a WIP.
Red – for visceral emotion. The character suffers some immediate reflexive response eg tremble, vomit, blush, sweat, heat thudding.
There should be no more tgab one of these per page and should be used sparingly.
Orange- body language where the character is doing something (Showing)  raised eyebrows, throw up hans, slammed on the brakes, ACTION/REACTION/EMOTION
Blue – Dialogue
Green – Setting and description   Unless this is an historical work it should not be overwhelmingly green
Purple – Conflict
Yellow – internalised, thoughts
Pink --  the character’s name  

Close up view
We then went on to highlight two pages of our WIP in another way.
On the first page using a separate colour each for verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, highlight them all. Then underline the use of any imagery or figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
This will give an instant visual of how the various language parts are balanced throughout the piece. It is hoped that the number of adverbs are few.
On the second page the first sentence(not line) is highlighted in one colour and the second in another then the third in the first colour and so forth. The colouring will show if the sentences are all the same length or if there is a pattern in sentence length or if there is a good variety to keep the reader interested and not bored. By doing this we become aware of our own rhythm and can help us break out of habitual patterns if need be.
I found this session extraordinarily helpful and was very pleased to see I did have a good balance in my language use, at least in these two pages and my sentence lengths were nicely varied. There were only three adverbs but I did manage to write my characters name an awful lot of times.
The other session running concurrent to Sherryl’s was on Verse Novels. When I am privy to the notes on both the poetry and verse sessions I will share them.
In the early evening we all had a Q & A session where we could simply shoot questions at Sherryl and Kristen and when we returned from dinner at a nearby hotel many of the participants read work to the group. Sharing stories face to face is a marvellous activity.

Sunday Morning the who group stayed together for a session on  Showing not telling.
Think about your character. It is important that the writer has a deep intimate knowledge of the character so that this comes through in the story.
Find mentor texts, someone whose writing you really admire, photocopy pages of their work and colour code them as suggested in the previous session and find out how they do what you like so much, then emulate them.
. Cliches such as ‘tears rolling down the cheeks’ are so over used. Thinking to myself is a tautology – who else would you be thinking to? Nodding my head – whose head would you nod if not your own? Use silences, they can be golden or deafening and a brilliant mechanism for deepening a scene.
Body Language is a vital tool in showing not telling what a character is about
 It is a good idea for writers to study body languge as body language leads to subtext. If the writer is putting in a foreign character it is vital to understand the nuances of a different culture.
70% of language is made up of non verbal cues. Our life survival depends on knowing that 70%. We have been learning body language all of our lives so we already know most of this naturally and need to simply understand on a less instinctive and more cerebral way so we can write it into our characters actions.
We need to look at voice, eyes, skin, tone/pitch/tempo of speech, movements, hands, facial gestures, dialogue, habits in fact all the non verbals.
We are encouraged to look at JK Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith and  see how she does it.
1st person narrators cannot describe their own actions and can only be described from the reactions of others to them.
1st person narrators make assumptions and mistakes about the other characters and can be influenced by mood and prejudices
Activity: write a scene where the body language indicates the character is saying and believing two different things.
“Of course I want to go to the circus with you” Ann’s face remained blank, her tone of voice bright.
“You hate the circus.” Lulu’s brows drew down in the centre and her lips pushed out in a duck pout. She crossed her chest with tight clenched arms. “Why would you agree to come?
“I don’t hate the circus.” Ann’s eyes darted to the clock and back to the sink, anywhere but Lulu’s face, “and you asked me to so of course I’ll go.” Ann picked up random objects and moved them about.
“Checkmate.” Yelled Lulu as she grabbed something and slammed it on the table to stop Ann’s fidgeting.
“Oh did I do that?” Ann put her fingers over her mouth.
“You don’t have to come with me.” Lulu leaned forward and Ann tilted her head to one side.
“Yes. I do.” She dripped her head forward and folded her hands in her lap.
“I’ll pick you up at four.” Lulu drained her cup and left abruptly.

We had a poem given us called “After his wife’s death” by RA Simpson in which the writer has expressed greif and the heaviness of it through other language than the actual word grief. It is an example of making the description richer.
Quote: Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass ‘Chekov’
Where in my body do I feel my emotions? Do I feel tight in the shoulders when I am stressed or afraid? Do I feel tingling in my pelvis when I am empathising with another’s pain? Do my arms feel numb when I am distressed?
Activity: Looking at a paragraph about a character called Nikita, rewrite it showing rather than telling.

Nikita swung her head quickly from side to side trying to keep her eye on all the shady people around her. She sat in the corner and plucked at her dress smoothing it across her lap. Her ankles crossed under the chair. A man approached and she pulled back from him until her thin shoulder blades pressed against the wall. He smiled and held out his hand pointing at the gyrating bodies behind him. Nikita put her hands over her ears and shook her head vigorously. His smile slipped and he departed. Nikita watched her friend wriggling among the dancers. Julie smiled and waved. Nikita lifted her hand but Julie was already lost in the crowd. Nikita’s shoulders dropped and she blew out a sigh through pursed lips.

The weekend was fabulous. We covered so much more than my notes can tell you. There were books on offer from everyone there who had something published. the networking alone was fantastic. It was a long way to go but worth all the travel time. I hope I will have many more opportunities to meet face to face with other writers. Social media is good but it can never make up for a conversation which contains that other 70% of language. 

Time for me to go and read.