Willamette Writers’ Conference – Day 2

Willamette Writers

Excellence 102: The Essential Nature of Dramatic Arc – Larry Brooks

I cannot recommend Larry Brooks highly enough. Larry is personable, funny, and warm. And his ability to analyze story structure and present it to writers is truly a gift to any who can attend his lectures or read his books. Reading Larry’s craft book Story Engineering helped me to create the novel that I finished and pitched at this year’s festival (and received 4 out of 5 Yes’s to). Larry is also incredibly generous with his resources, making much of his work available online. Attempting to condense Larry’s brilliance down to a paragraph or two would not do justice to the depth of his knowledge, nor could I possibly explain it as clearly and approachably as he does, so I’m going to provide a link to his website and let you all experience the magic of story structure for yourself.

As someone who trained writing short stories, I never thought I had a novel in me. I’m a “pantser” when it comes to short stories, but through his book and website, I found a path to my novel and am starting the outline for my next one. Truly folks, stop reading my blog (thanks for doing that, by the way) and go to his website: Larry Brooks – Story Fix

 

The Web of Character – Hallie Ephron

This seminar on character presented the idea that characters are all at work for or against your protagonist. Most often, the characters in our novels are working both for and against the protagonist, and from the juxtaposition of various character needs and wants, we arrive at conflict, tension, and an engaging narrative arc. In this lecture, we explored the characters in The Wizard of Oz. At the center of the web is Dorothy who wants to get home. Around Dorothy are the others characters in the story, such as Glinda and the Wicked Witch, as well as the Wizard, the Tin Man, the Lion, etc. Take the Wizard, for instance, his greatest desire is for the witch’s broom and in order to get the broom, he must send Dorothy into the witch’s castle to kill the witch (something he doesn’t tell her she’ll have to do). The bargain he strikes with Dorothy – broom for help getting home – puts Dorothy in danger, thus the Wizard is both working for and against Dorothy. Characters such as the Tin Man or the Lion are Dorothy’s allies, but they also have their own agenda: to get a brain, to get a heart, etc and because of their characters, they also work against Dorothy, such as the Lion’s repeated fear of going into the unknown, which is exactly where they need to go in order to succeed. Each character in our novels should have multiple goals – i.e. either to work with or against the protagonist, but also to achieve some agenda of their own.

To learn more about Hallie and her publications, visit: Hallie Ephron

 

Corporeal Writing Part I – Lidia Yuknavitch

Stop what you’re doing right now (and thanks for coming back here after visiting Larry’s site, by the way) and go to Lidia Yuknavitch’s website: Corporeal Writing with Lidia Yuknavitch.

Lidia’s seminar on Corporeal Writing: writing on the body – was another of the life-changing seminars I attended. Ok, so that sounds pretty dramatic, right? Life-changing? Seriously? YES.

This seminar alone has generated some surprising writing and will continue to generate writing that I can use in my fiction or memoir writing for years to come. Lidia’s approach is all about putting it on the body, looking for that place in or on the body where the emotional truth of a story has landed. Here’s what Lidia had to say: “My body had a story that my mind was hiding from me.” To try this out, do this exercise from our class: Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Where does your mind go or center on? It could be a place that’s uncomfortable or tingly or just hyper-aware. Now, take that spot of your body and write a story about it from childhood, preferably a true one, but you can make it up if you need to. Then, write about that place on your body right here and now. What does it feel like, what is it telling you? Now, go through both pieces of writing and circle the descriptive words: adjectives, adverbs, or particularly active verbs. Transfer this to a list. Study the list. What is this list trying to tell you?

Briefly, here’s how this exercise worked for me: I centered on my lower left back, a place that frequently hurts or aches. I wrote about rolling down the hill at my grandmother’s house and how we would bump along the hard-packed Indiana dirt. For whatever reason, this memory sprang to mind, probably because I bruised my back (and my body as a whole) doing this. Then, I wrote about how that pain felt as I sat in that seminar room and compared it to a sunflower, the long stalk rising for weeks, the slow blossoming of the yellow petals, and the seeds ready to be plucked and roasted. My list contained a lot of color words, nature descriptors, and cooking metaphors. What did this tell me? That I am drawn to writing about nature and that who I am now is highly informed by my youth in Indiana. I can look to these places to generate more work – work that will be true and evocative.

I gave you her website right up front because I simply can’t explain it with the same level of humor and clarity that Lidia provides. She leads workshops in the Portland area and you need to get on this asap since all her workshops are currently sold out.

 

Writing for Television: A panel – Moderated by Waka Brown with Sandra Leviton and Kaila York

In this panel discussion, Sandra Leviton and Kaila York discussed the pathway to becoming a television writer. The truth is, unless you’re willing to move to L.A. and move through the traditional route, writing for television can be very difficult, but not impossible. For those of us who are rooted in Portland, our path would involve finding an agent or manager who can get our original pilot to a network producer. Then would come meetings (in L.A.) and should our pilot get picked up or should our agent find us a spot writing for a current television program, we would still need to move to L.A. for the season. They suggested that the best path for non-L.A. residents is to submit our work to contests and fellowships. There are many websites where you can search for these kinds of contests, but one I’ve found helpful is: MovieBytes Screenwriting Competitions.

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