Willamette Writers’ Conference – Day 3

Willamette Writers

Controlling Story Layers with ED ACE – Eric Witchey

Eric Witchey’s seminar on story layers was another of those “aha!” seminars, just like Larry Brooks’ the day before. In addition, Eric was incredibly generous with the resources he provided to attendees in the shape of an entire craft booklet to assist with understanding story layers. Again, your best resource is to visit Eric Witchey’s website and try to find a seminar you can attend.

To break it down a bit, story layers is the concept that a story is driven by emotion – wow, big surprise, right? While we can all acknowledge that story is drive by emotion, what we may not understand – or be doing yet in our writing – is moving through the story layers completely. Here it is: Emotion drives Decision. Decision drives Action. Action leads to Conflict. And Conflict results in Emotion. The cycle starts all over again with the new Emotion. Characters in our stories are constantly moving through this process, and may even be engaging in more than one ED ACE cycle.

For more on this, and so find one of Eric’s seminars, go to his website: Eric Witchey

Rx for Middle Maladies – Jessica Morrell

Unfortunately, the demons that live in our computers corrupted Jessica’s file for this presentation, but we nonetheless had an engaging discussion and were able to still learn much about the vital role performed by the middle of our novels, what we often think of as Act II.

Act II should start with the First Plot Point – a moment of major fall-out for the character in which everything changes and the protagonist must make a change or decision. We then begin climbing the mountain of rising action as more and more trials come into play and threaten the protagonist’s ability to achieve his or her goals. Act II is also where the subplots should play out. Allies will appear in Act II. Act II continues until the crisis – the moment when all hope seems lost and the protagonist hits bottom.

Besides the above beats that we want to hit in Act II, the over arching theme of Act II should be the continual denial of the goal, the rising of the stakes, and pushing the protagonist into deeper, darker places, often resulting in the narrator making mistakes and crossing a moral line. Overall, Act II is about playing keep-away with your protagonist and creating situations that further heighten just how badly the protagonist wants something while simultaneously making it feel as if he or she will never achieve it.

To learn more about Jessica, visit her website through the link I provided on Day 1.

 

Punching Up Your Prose: Part I and II – Tex Thompson

Listening to Tex Thomspon for 2 hours and being continually captivated by her genius and entertained by her constant wit and humor was worth the conference fee alone. Tex was absolutely riveting in her discussion of punching up our prose. Using her knowledge of rhetorical devices, Tex explained how we can use various techniques to make our prose more vivid, eye-catching, and ear-popping. As Tex herself said, these are the techniques that keep readers seeking out the “eargasms” in our writing.

One of Tex’s points about sentence structure and length was that “excellent writing should look like interval training.” We should use the length and structure of our sentences to underscore what’s happening in the story. Short choppy sentences = action. Long winding sentences = description/exposition. We can use positions of emphasis to help readers follow our meaning: the last thing in the sentence is the most important; the first thing is the second most; and the middle of a sentence is for the least important. Alternately, we can flip that expectation on its head and hide important information in the middle of a sentence (such as a clue in a mystery or thriller), or we can flip the expectation on its head to catch the reader’s attention.

Tex is another of this year’s presenters that I cannot speak of highly enough. I strongly recommend reading her work and keeping an eye out for any workshops or seminars where she is teaching. You can learn more about Tex at: Tex Thompson

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