Last Saturday, the Calgary Association of the RWA (CARWA) held its annual Spring Craft Workshop. Our featured speaker was James Scott Bell. More than fifty writers attended from Calgary and beyond.
Jim is the author of thrillers such as: Final Witness, Don’t Leave Me, and One More Lie. Writing as K. Bennett, he is the author of the Zombie Legal Thrillers: Pay Me in Flesh, Eating Dangerously, and I Ate the Sheriff.
He has also written several books on the craft of writing including Plot & Structure, Conflict & Suspense, The Art of War for Writers, and his latest, Write Your Novel From the Middle.
On the Friday evening before the workshop, the Board took Mr. Bell up the Calgary Tower to the “Sky 360” revolving restaurant. Since I am CARWA’s Membership Chair, the Board invited me to dinner as well. (Yay!)
The sun does not set until about 9:30 and the evening was clear, so we had an excellent view of the city and the Rocky Mountains. Here are some of the board members on the observation deck of the Calgary Tower.
And here is the whole board with JSB in the “Sky 360” restaurant.
Back: James Scott Bell, Alyssa Linn Palmer, Roxy Boroughs, Shelley Kassian
Front: Moira Stelmack, A.M. Westerling, Brenda Sinclair
Jim is from Los Angeles and has lived there all his life. He was interested in trying something Canadian, so he ordered the elk. I mean, how often do you get to eat elk? He also asked the waitress to suggest a wine that was “conversational without being verbose” and she brought this. A Canadian wine from the South Okanagan, near Oliver, British Columbia. Apparently, it pairs well with the elk!
On Saturday, Jim presented his workshop called WRITING THE KNOCKOUT NOVEL. Some of the topics he covered were:
- What Plot is really all about
- Creating characters that “jump off the page”
- The fastest way to improve your manuscript
- The essentials of great dialogue
And he gave us the best interpretation of Casablanca I have ever heard. He also talked about his new craft book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. Click on the image at the beginning of this post and it will take you to Amazon where you can make the best “under $3 craft book” purchase of your life. Seriously.
After the workshop, we debriefed at the Toad ‘n’ Turtle. Jim chose the Big Rock Grasshopper Ale.
And, ever adventurous, he also tried that Canadian delicacy, poutine. Poutine is originally from Quebec, made with french fries, topped with a light brown gravy and cheese curds. He asked if it came with a cardiologist.
James Scott Bell with Suzanne Stengl
You can find Jim on his website and, on Sundays, at The Kill Zone—where he blogs about writing and writing related topics.
Have you been to a James Scott Bell workshop? Have you read one of his craft books? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from JSB?
I’m rereading Mary Stewart’s THE MOONSPINNERS. Carefully turning the pages to keep them in order, I tell myself I really must buy a new copy. This one is falling apart.
But the format does not matter. As usual, as I read Mary Stewart, I savour her use of language. And I am reminded of three of my favourite literary devices: alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia.
Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in two or more neighbouring words or syllables.
from The Moonspinners–
‘I would find a cool place by the water, eat my meal, and have my fill of the mountain silence and solitude before going down later to the village.’
Other examples Mary Stewart uses–
weeds at the water’s edge
with slow, unstartled beat of wings
a point of powerful magic
Assonance is a type of alliteration, only with vowels inside a sentence or phrase.
from The Moonspinners–
The E in — donkeys and sheep
The AR in — scarlet cigarette-packet
The O in — those remote and floating peaks
Onomatopoeia is the naming of a thing or action by the sound it makes. Not only is this a lovely literary device, it’s simply a beautiful word. Don’t you just love saying it?
One of my favourite examples of onomatopoeia is Chickadee. The sound the bird makes is the name we give it. Other examples of onomatopoeia are trill, buzz, drip, warble, hiss, whoosh, whisper.
Here’s the Mary Stewart example–
‘Midday. Not a leaf stirring. No sound, except the cool noise of the water, and the sudden plop of a frog diving in the pool under the bridge.’
And now I will go back to my reading.
Do you have a favourite literary device? Do you just love saying onomatopoeia?
word cloud from Wordle.net
This is the Nanking cherry tree in my garden.
Spring has definitely arrived in southern Alberta with summer-like temperatures this past week. In my garden, the Nanking cherries are blooming and the bumblebees are busy.
While thinking about a plot point, I was watching the bees in the blossoms and they reminded me of something Lawrence Block said in his WRITING THE NOVEL: From Plot to Print.
Block describes how he tried to learn the “right” way to write a novel. One source advised him to use three-by-five file cards and make a card for each character that would appear in the story. Each character card would include things like the character’s appearance, background and habits. Next were the scene cards. He was supposed to write a card for each scene in the book, detailing those events, what the weather was like and so on. The idea was that it was necessary to know everything the scene needed—and the whole book needed—before you actually sat down to write it.
Block (like many of us) was discouraged by this approach and gave up trying to write a book. But a few months later, he reports how he got up one morning and wrote a two-page outline of a novel.
A month after that, he sat down, and with his two-page outline, he began to type. He says:
“I felt a little guilty without a shoebox full of file cards, but like the bumblebee who goes on flying in happy ignorance of the immutable laws of physics, I persisted in my folly and wrote the book in a couple of weeks.”
He goes on to say that the other approach was not wrong, just wrong for him. And so we must each find our own method.
Are you a writer? Have you ever thought of preparing a shoebox full of scene cards? Do you have any bumblebees in your garden?
Nanking cherry blossoms from the barista
Last Saturday, May 12, 2012, the Calgary chapter of the RWA (CARWA) hosted story consultant Michael Hauge. He presented his day-long workshop on Story Mastery to 66 writers from Calgary and area.
If you ever get a chance to attend a Story Mastery workshop, go! Failing that, buy WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL. Michael has been helping writers and screenwriters for over 20 years. He teaches with movie examples and good humour, answering questions along the way and always digging deeper for the Story.
If I’d known I could get this much information in one short day, I’d have flown somewhere to hear him speak before now. He will be a Keynote Speaker at the 2012 Emerald City Writers Conference, hosted by the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America on October 26 this year. Find out more here.
I’m still sorting through the photos I took. You’ll be able to find them on the CARWA website in a couple of days. Here are a few for now.
Linda Ford (Harlequin), Jenna Howard, Louise Behiel
Dee Van Dyk, Diana Scott, Neil Scott
Tawny Stokes (CARWA President), Lawna Mackie
Suzanne Stengl, Michael Hauge
Have you heard Michael Hauge speak? Have you read his books? How has he helped your writing?
In Season 4, Episode 20 of The Big Bang Theory, the scientists are meeting for their usual cafeteria lunch and the conversation is wandering.
Sheldon says he’s been thinking about someone’s efforts “to make science palatable for the masses.” And Leonard asks, “What about it?”
Sheldon: That’s all. I’ve just been thinking about it . . . . Now I’m thinking about fractal equations . . . . Now I’m thinking about the origin of the phrase Train of Thought . . . . Now I’m thinking about trains.
Free Fall is like writing down your train of thought.
I have set aside short story writing for the moment and I’m coming back to my 100,000 word novel. At least, it’s aiming to be 100,000 words. I’m about one-fifth of the way into it. To get back into the story, I’m using Free Fall.
My writing hero Natalie Goldberg has an exercise on Free Fall in her Writing Down the Bones
. (Shambhala Publications Inc., 1986 p.8)
- Choose the length of time you want to write and commit to it.
- Keep your hand moving. (In my example that follows, the words that come out are simply there so that my hand Will keep moving.)
- Don’t cross out.
- Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, etc.
- Lose control.
- Don’t think.
- Go for the jugular.
Seems easy, right? It’s not, particularly the go for the jugular part. “If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy,” Natalie says.
So I begin. I’m putting this piece here for you to see how useless it looks. You may notice I’m talking to a figment of my imagination. You may want to try talking – or listening – to your own figment. Sometimes it’s helpful.
fee fiddle foe fumming.
and the list goes on.
I want to stop and go to the net, but this is my one hour of free fall and I have to be here to let my fingers exercise,
here I am exercising my fingers. hop along the keyboard. flying over the keys. fingers do not fly. dismembered body parts. fingers can fly over a keyboard. that’s just a metaphor. what’s wrong with metaphors.
gabe: why are you here?
s: don’t have anywhere else to be, and this is the closest I could come to writing.
gabe: but you still have a critic on your shoulder
s: I know
gabe: why don’t you ask them to leave?
s: them. used as singular so that you don’t need to say her or him.
I love pronouns. no I don’t.
a long time ago and a faraway place. Nora Roberts writing vampire stuff. me writing nothing.
I can write but I do not.
need to plug in kettle, but will delay that because mostly I want to stop moving my fingers. hopping along the keyboard. do fingers hop? they don’t fly so maybe they could hop.
hop hippo hop along Cassidy
Africa with Mary, wandering around that swamp, hearing a noise and just running like crazy. like a hippo or a lion was chasing us. and fear. we didn’t look back, we ran, and then there was nothing.
I am not brave.
I have a messy office.
Christmas at Puddleford, Magnavilla.
with the potato satellites. coat hanger in potato, stick in evergreen branches.
glitter. tinsel on the evergreen and some red things stuck in there so it looked pretty.
the teacher’s desk raised above the level of the classroom. that was the stage. I think they had curtains.
the Christmas concert. the big deal. some important man from the community being the emcee. and the bags of “goodies” for the good little children. an apple, an orange, some nuts, and a candy cane. looking very nice. with a bow on, in a cello bag. so nice. a one nice time of the year.
mom had that bough of evergreen by the door, with lights in it.
I am at the 44 and need to go to the 57 that is 13 minutes.
how will I make my fingers do it.
you will get better with practice. with age.
you will get old.
with age, and practice.
sleep is heavy, pulling down my eyelids and my arms and my determination
I have none, I give in like that, I quit. I am a slouch.
what is a slouch. how does a slouch slough.
with lots of practice, and being old.
And that’s an example of Free Fall. There may not be a single phrase in there that I can use but that’s not the point. The point is to loosen up your brain and flex your fingers and maybe move you closer to your real writing. Yes, I know, many writers claim they only have so many words in them and they do not want to waste them on this exercise.
How about you? Does Free Fall work for you?
Or, as Sheldon says, “Now I’m thinking about jello.”
photo from iStockphoto.com #000016403632