As I mentioned in my first PWC post, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference offers three-day workshops during the bulk of the day, as well as single sessions workshops in the morning and in the late afternoon. I literally collapsed each night when I got home. The workshops were amazing but intense.
Have you ever tried to make a pita sandwich at home? No matter what kind of pita you buy, all the stuffing manages to fall down the front of your shirt at first bite. That’s how I felt at the end of day: stuffed with new information threatening to spill out (okay, maybe that’s just my lack of homemaker skills, but you get the point). Luckily I took copious notes. I just need to figure out my handwriting.
My three-day intensive workshops were:
- Planning a Novel (Rachel Pastan),
- Writing and Worldbuilding in the Genres of Speculative Fiction (Anna Kashina), and
- Maximizing the Emotional Potential of Your Novel (Kathryn Craft)
My one-session workshops:
- Surviving Query Quicksand (K.M. Walton),
- Pitch Perfect (Frances Grote)
- Grammar for Writers (Courtney Bambrick)
Master Class – The Sound on the Page: Finding and Using Your Voice (Ben Yagoda)
I have to applaud the PWC for booking such great workshop leaders (and from what I heard, the other workshops were equally awesome!). To give you a taste of what I learned, I’m going to share a few tidbits of information on writing and story craft. Obviously, I’m not going to recreate every note (I had pages and pages and it wouldn’t be fair to the presenters), but I want to emphasize how attending a workshop can help you, as a writer, learn more, build your writing toolkit, and really pump up your fiction.
Note: I’ve been a reader all my life. As I was discussing with Kathryn Craft, I think voracious readers, if they turn to writing, tend to learn how to craft a story through osmosis in the sense that we pick up some elements of writing naturally. That’s not to say we start writing and it’s perfect or that we can’t consciously learn, but as readers we love story and there are some things we do when we’re writing that we probably don’t think about. For me, I can feel the rhythm of a story when I’m writing and I know when I’m off. I can feel when the opening is dragging, or the middle sagging, or when the ending really isn’t pulling it all together. Now, I don’t always know how to fix it. I may not even be able to pinpoint what’s not working, but I can feel it because I know how good fiction reads, how it makes me feel, how it punches me in the gut when that emotional impact and connection is there.
So onto some randomly selected tips:
- Story (this happened, then this, then that) vs Plot (this happens therefore that happens, but then that happens). Plot is what drives the story forward and introduces conflict and tension. (I actually learned this is a workshop offered by Barbara Barnett-Stewart last year, but it was good reinforcement). [Pastan]
- For worldbuilding, think about locations and landscape (sketch a map!), societal hierarchy, cultural elements, weapons and technology, deities, language (curse and swear words!). You’re not going to use everything, but knowing it will provide you as the author a better sense of the world you are building and add authenticity and authority to your writing. [Kashina]
- Interweave (or connect) characters and conflict as much as possible. How can you add conflict/tension between your MC and a secondary characters? How about between two secondary characters? [Craft]
- A story isn’t powerful because of events; a story is powerful because of how a character reacts to the events and the emotional impact of the events. [Craft]
- Ending a chapter in the middle of a scene does not increase tension. It creates a false tension. Let chapters have their own arcs. [Craft]
- Your main character should have a desire. They can have more than one, but one above all should propel the story forward (the “spark”). [Pastan]
So. Much. Information. I literally have pages of notes I’m reading through, saying to myself, ah, yes, that! And that! Don’t forget that!
What’s one of the best pieces of information you’ve picked up in a writing workshop or class? What classes or workshops have you attended? Did you feel they’ve helped? Let me know in the comments!
Next up: Pitch and Query: the Double-headed Dreaded Dragon.
(Don’t worry. In my last Next Up, I mentioned Asshats. They’re coming. Kelly Simmons‘ speech needs its own post.)