In our 2016 member survey, many Burlington Writers Workshop members expressed an interest in more instructional craft workshops. You should know that we’ve got some interesting things going on in this area.
On Saturday, Peter Biello ran another well-attended and informative weekend craft workshop. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, participants explored how writers create believable romantic relationships and tried their hand at creating chemistry on the page.
Our Creative Nonfiction group has also been evolving to include monthly participant-driven craft sessions to great success. Using a Masters of Style approach, participants read short nonfiction pieces prior to each craft session and come ready to discuss elements of the writer’s style and then emulate it in an original piece in their chosen genre.
There are still spots left in the Tuesday, February 23rd (10:30 am) craft session. This session, led by BWW member Karin Ames, will focus on blogs: what makes a good blog, whether blogs can be “literary,” how writers are using blogs, and other relevant topics. Participants will also practice writing a blog post during the workshop. RSVP to save your spot now >
Stay tuned as we continue to create more instructional craft opportunities for members!
by Liz Cantrell
Publishing one’s work in literary magazines and journals is a daunting process. Fear of rejection, information overload, and lack of organization can prevent any writer from pursuing publication.
The BWW is fortunate to have regular members who have successfully published their work—including Michelle Watters, assistant poetry editor for Mud Season Review—who hosted a recent workshop to advise writers on the submission process.
If you’re writing a novel, one of the easiest ways to send your character on a worthwhile journey is to eliminate possible solutions to your protagonist’s problem until the only one that remains is the riskiest, most dangerous, or most extreme.
If your reader watches your protagonist fail to solve the problem with the easy, common-sense solutions before resorting to extreme measures, it’s more likely that the reader will identify with that protagonist. That feeling of identification goes a long way toward making the reader want to keep reading.
Recently, in one part of a three-part book-length narrative planning workshop in Burlington, I used the following episode of This American Life to illuminate the concept of eliminating the “simple” options.
In the first story in this hour-long radio show, a young couple is sailing across the Pacific Ocean in their houseboat. (If you have 20 minutes, listen to the story. It’s worth it.) This houseboat is their only home. While they’re on this journey, their baby becomes sick. To solve this problem, they have a range of options:
- Treat the baby while they’re at sea.
- Keep sailing until they reach a country with a good hospital system.
- Push a button on a device that will call in help but force them to sink their boat.
Spoiler alert: Number three is a life-changer, and the one they eventually chose. But they had to try the first two and fail at those before option three could be reasonable. (Imagine sinking the boat first! Insanity!)
In short, here’s what happened: The baby had some kind of ear infection and wasn’t responding to treatment. The baby’s illness was so upsetting that they didn’t feel it was wise to wait until they found a decent hospital. The boat sustained some damage, making the luxury of extended travel more risky. And their radio had died. They agonized, but ultimately decided that option three was the best one available.
If your characters make irrevocable choices with huge consequences, you may have a good story on your hands. This couple’s choice left them homeless, which was the consequence they anticipated. What they didn’t anticipate was that, back in the United States, the media had labeled them “bad parents” because they’d brought the baby out to sea (which, as host Ira Glass points out, is not unusual for people who live in houseboats). It’s hard not to sympathize with them. They had some bad luck, did what any reasonable person in their situation would have done, and faced miserable consequences.
As I listened to this piece, I kept wondering what a novelized version of this would look like. Their struggle to make the outside world understand what they had gone through—and perhaps how their relationship survives the stress of being homeless and persecuted by a judgmental world—would serve as the basis of such a novel.
In this workshop, I advised my fellow writers to try and figure out the “simple” steps toward solving the problem facing their protagonist. What’s the problem? What are the reasonable steps that ultimately fail? What extreme measure did they choose, and what are the consequences of that measure?
Granted, there a million ways to write novels, and this exercise won’t apply to all (or perhaps even most) novels. But it’s worth trying out to see if it works for you. While some writers shun any kind of planning (“It ruins my creativity!”), I argue that it’s worth putting careful thought into this essential part of your story before you start writing it. Identifying the problem and the steps your protagonist would have to take isn’t going to sap your creativity. It’s going to save you time, and if you’re like me—a person with a 40-50 hour-a-week job—you’re going to need to make every precious hour count.
by Kerstin Lange
I don’t know what I love more—research or writing (and when I say “love,” I mean the whole spectrum of joy, inspiration, hard work, and pain). It doesn’t matter, of course. What I love about both endeavors is that there is both an art and a craft to them, or, you could say, an inspiration element and a nuts-and-bolts element.
Almost invariably when I open a book, I feel compelled to look at the acknowledgements page. Seeing all the names and specialties of the people the author has been in touch with conjures up an image of synapses connecting not just within one brain but across many—sort of an ecosystem of interconnected minds. Perhaps this is my favorite thing about the BWW, too: That it offers a balance between the solitary and the social aspects of writing and helps us connect with other writers.