First order of business, I finally have paper copies of A Heart in Sun & Shadow. They are up in the Createspace store and available directly through Amazon.com as well. I will probably be offering signed copies of this directly as well, so if anyone wants a signed trade paperback, let me know.
I have been basically MIA online this last week since I spent the last eight days out at the beach working my ass off in a Character Voice workshop taught by Dean Wesley Smith with some help from Kristine Rusch. I am still processing all I learned this week. I am not even sure where to begin. The entire focus of the workshop was on how to build characters that have dimension and feel like whole people who leap off the page and suck readers into books. You know, basically the most important thing a writer can learn.
Each day looked basically like this:
9am, meet for breakfast. Noon- meet for first session, turn in our coloring assignments (basically a few pages by a best-selling author that highlights what we were focusing on that we had to go in and mark up) and sometimes we turned in big assignments in the mornings as well (especially as the week went on). We’d break generally by 1:30 or 2 and then have to be back at 7pm with our big assignments. We’d generally break again for the night between 8:30 and 9pm. Rinse, repeat for 7 days.
The big assignments were 3-4 story starts, 2 pages each, working specifically on whatever character voice technique we focused on each day. (So 6-8 pages of writing each day). Then we also had two short story assigments, 3-6k words each, one was due Tues evening (we got that assignment on the first Sat) and one was due Friday evening (we got that one on Tues night). We also had to all read everyone else’s assignments so we could see what others were doing that might work and or not and learn from that as well (there were 10 of us in the class, so about 50-70 pages of reading a night plus whatever our coloring assignment was, plus all the short stories once those were turned in). In the middle of the week the class as a whole basically flubbed an entire assignment and had to re-do all the exercises with whole new story starts and characters, so that added even more work on. But we did better on the re-do and I, for one, feel that I have a better grasp on what we were supposed to be learning in that exercise.
The things we focused on were: Accents, Attitude, Content through dialogue, Opinion, Actions, and Structure (look & flow of manuscript as it relates to characterization). We also covered some more advanced tips and tricks at the end of the workshop, but those were the biggies.
Let me say this: One week was NOT enough. It was a good, intensive start, but I know I’m going to be working hard on this stuff for probably the rest of my writing life. So much of it can really only be put into practice through subconscious feel, but I’m glad that we did the exercises we did. They are ones I can do at home if I feel I’m struggling with something. There were also six major things, and there are six weeks of Clarion. I know what I’m going to be working on while at Clarion. Getting characters to look, feel, and sound like breathing, interesting, full-dimensional people is a HUGE part of writing well. Ideas are neat and all, but people won’t keep reading books with flat characters. I’ve got a great opportunity for focused practice while I’m at Clarion, and I’m going to make use of it. I have new tools in my tool box now, and I’m certainly not going to let them get rusty.
I am exhausted, still. I hit the wall on Saturday morning, on the final assignment. I opened up the blank page and my brain just said “no”. Guess what? I wrote the three assignments anyway and made two out of the three really work. That was me brain-dead. It’s good to push and push sometimes because I really learned what I was capable of even when it felt like my creative muscle had finally stopped moving. I literally had no ideas. None. I needed three story starts on Sat morning and my brain just said “no”. And I, writer me, said “yes”. Out of all the story starts we did that week? One of mine on Sat morning is probably the only story I’ll actually go back to and finish. A story start that came out of the dregs of my exhausted brain but the character when she started speaking was there, ready to go and I just let the two pages happen.
So I’m really glad I went. Despite the problems that cropped up in my life right before, despite the frustration and exhaustion, despite it all, I think I’ve grown as a writer in just one week and I think I’ll be able to use these skills going forward. And again, if you are serious about being a professional writer and don’t mind being made to work, the workshops on the Oregon Coast put on by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch are worth every penny, every tear, every moment (as any of my fellow writers who have come through that crucible can tell you as well). I’ve learned amazing things from them and met some amazing writers who have, I hope, become amazing friends.
Now, I’m going to go read a book, drink some tea, and let my brain rest. But not for too long *grin*