Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Charlie's Ramblings: Brisbane Writers Festival 2014 Part 1
So last week was the Brisbane Writers Festival.  It was pretty amazing.  I met some awesome people, not to mention being able to add a few more Authors into my To-Be-Read list.

I've decided to do this as a 3 Part Rambling as you will, as each posts will be quite long!!

Wednesday and Friday I was booked into Masterclasses: Pen to Paper and Creative Methods by Laini Taylor.  Both were awesome.  For some reason this year I decided to take loads of notes and I am happy that I have.  It definitely helps me remember everything that went on during the day.

On Saturday I was back again but this time it was for the Panels/Discussions.  First up I had Unnatural Creatures with Laini Taylor, John Pickrell and Robert Edeson, then onto A Mad and Wonderful Thing with Mark Mulholland, then Girt by David Hunt.  He really is a funny guy.  I'm happy to report that I am now reading his book among others and learning about Australian History, and ENJOYING it.  For the first time ever.  Then the last discussion for me was Running from Danger with James Phelan, Lauren Beukes and Peter Docker.  It was a pretty full on day.

I will share some of the things I took notes on a bit further down as well as things that I wrote down about some of the Authors answers to questions they were asked.  It was very fascinating!  And now that I've had a week to sit back and process, I can add my thoughts on this too.

Wednesday 3rd September

the "Venti" size hot cuppa in question lol
I was pretty stoked coming up to the first Masterclass of the Festival that I got there early.  Not early enough to walk over to Brisbane to visit Starbucks but early enough to look around the Library Shop and sneak in a selfie to try and win some prizes.  Later they added that it had to be creative, which mine wasn't.  But let's not post it here. lol

It was about half hour before I wanted to go in, and I guess I didn't really think it through but wanted a hot chocolate while we were doing the masterclass.  So I bought one.  I went to go enter the State Library, cuppa in hand and lo and behold the lovely "No Food and Drink" sign.  Of course.  I'm heading into a library. Doh!  And of course I had to get the largest available.

And I drank it. I did.  At $5.30 you would too.

So I wandered off to have a look around.

And this is what I seen:

 So as you can tell, it took a little bit to drink the chocolate.  But once I did, I was up in the lift and on the second level waiting with everyone else for the library, and the Queensland Writers Centre "Learning Centre" to open.

Masterclass: Pen To Paper

The one thing I'm always surprised (and I shouldn't be really) is the vast diversity of people that attend the masterclasses.  It's not just for young people or older people or people that look like they like to read. Some of these people I would never pick to love writing and how wrong would I be?  It's awesome!

So we all had to introduce ourselves, which I always dread.  I just hate the feeling of having all eyes on me, I almost think I'm going to stutter.  I KNOW my face will go red and no I won't be able to remember the last book I was reading because I've been put on the spot!!  So I went with The Messenger by Marcus Zusak which is one of those books I could pick up and read again and again (A rarity)
The good thing about this was that other people mentioned their last reads and one in particular: "This Book is Full of Spiders" had me interested.

So we did a number of exercises in class for things like Character and Setting, Viewpoint, Plot and Character, Context and Setting, Narrative Structure, Show Don't Tell and Conclusion.

I've been to a few masterclasses in previous years and the one thing I always like about some of them are the handouts that we get.  I feel like they help me to remember the things that we discussed in class etc.

So obviously they had these here!  Thumbs up!!

I'm going to include things here that I would want to come back later and reread, wherever I am. Things that I feel will be of use to myself and others as a writers.

The first exercise we did was a Character one.  The woman running the class handed out random photos and we were split up into groups of two or threes depending.  The first things we had to think of were:

Who is this?  What's happening?

We brainstormed as a group and came up with various ideas.  (This is what I love about masterclasses, LIKE MINDED PEOPLE) It was fun, and I couldn't help looking at the picture trying to see it as the other writers did.  We shared the things that we agreed on and then moved on to the second part.

What happens next?

You wouldn't believe the things we had planned for this couple in the photo, what they were about to do, their justifications etc.  It was crazy fun!

Objective - The key is to articulate intent!!

We moved on to the Character and Settings and spoke about  things like what compels a reader to keep reading.  Some bullet points I listed for this were:
  • Help the reader to relate to the story
  • Orient the reader in a coherent world
  • Opportunities of conflict
Then we moved on to a bit of brainstorming on what makes strong memorable characters.  Some of the things that popped up I wouldn't have thought of:
  • Resilient
  • Strength
  • Moral
  • Relatable
  • Flawed
  • Righteous
  • Conflicted
I think the last one was completely important.  If you don't have a character evolving from the beginning of the novel to the end, you will feel like what was the point of the story to begin with if it doesn't push the protagonist to change in some way.

We moved on to Viewpoint.

So the best person to tell the story is the one with the most to lose.  The character that will give a bigger emotional response and one that the reader can empathise with.

So in other words, whose story is it?  Consider whether your character is the one that helps move the plot.  Or whether your character acts as a conduit.  Eg.  Harry Potter. We got the most out of watching him engaging with other characters.  - This is one that I'd never heard of before but I suppose they are right!

Plot and Character.

How does the event impact on the character?

We worked from a worksheet here and were introduced to three methods of Character Profile to get to know your character.  I find that I tend to do this once I'm a third into the story.  I'm a "panther" (Term that came out in one of the classes) or Pantser which means I don't know how it is going to end.  I have a few ideas of where I might like it to go but nothing set in stone.

As I said there were three methods (Bear in mind that there are more than three methods)

The first is The Interrogation.  Where you go very in depth with things like Basics, physical appearance, personality, possessions family aspirations and goals etc.

Up next is The Interview.  So in order to render these characters in 3d there are a number of questions to ask eg. What's your worst habit?  You discover that your boss is about to fire you.  What do you do?  Scenarios... that sort of thing.

Then there's Field Observation.  This works by doing an exercise that puts the character into a brief scene
where you can observe them.  Buying coffee, out for dinner etc.  You would then write down what happens in the scene not some observations about your character.  This I believe works better if you know everything there is to know about your character so you wouldn't rely on the first two methods.

The next section we looked at was Context and Setting.  This must have been more full on for me as I only have bullet points and tips really. For instance:

  • Too much description slows down the pace.
  • When describing setting, be specific, use sensory detail, engage with the environment.
  • Conflict and generating it - Restricted settings where they cant escape confines, etc.
Narrative Structure

This I was pretty interested in.  It discusses shape and the classic Beginning, middle and end arc. The Four part narrative - Intro, Complication, Climax and resolution.  I had drawings for these things and we discussed how using this would vary from each genre.

We also discussed within the Narrative structure and what examples of story could go into each section and what you could look at to focus on things and what you should think about when writing the Intro:

  • Must achieve certain things
  • Identify with what they want
  • Bit of socialisation
  • Goal
  • Suck the reader in
  • Magic - eg. very specific, establishing rules or even the most basic rules eg. in Harry Potter it is made clear in the beginning that magic was not to be done in front of muggles or to be done outside of Hogwarts while underage.
  • Establish a year.  You don't have to state it, but putting in a description or something along the lines to point when roughly the story is based does help the reader to imagine the story better.
  • Don't info dump etc.
  • Using a Hook: Plant a question and pique interest
The Complication should be the largest section of your book (in classic storytelling) and will include a string of setbacks and failures.  You probably should think ahead as to whether your character will or wont triumph.  

Climax: It's the highest point of tension.  Obstacles become fewer and fewer as you reach the climax.  Options are being lessened and running out of options. It can mean that all obstacles are overcome etc.

It doesn't have to be long.  It should tie up loose ends and provide closure.  It could include a glimpse of the future.  Epilogue = glimpse of the future - if you planned on doing it that way...  It also doesn't have to be a happy ending!

Obviously if planning on more than one book eg. Trilogy, you wouldn't tie up all your loose ends.  Also with Trilogies/Series you can look at Book 1 as your Intro and part of the complication, Book 2 All Complication heading towards Book 3 which will have your Climax and resolution.

That was pretty much all the technicals laid out.  It helped clarify alot of things.  We then moved on to a quick discussion on show and tell and when to do which.

You don't always have to show but it can increase interest.  Also does it benefit the story by showing, or would it be better to tell.. these sorts of things.  Engage the senses.  Don't forget to tap into sound and smell. 

I'm not sure if I heard this in class but apparently hearing is one of the last things to go in a body whether you pass out or die.  I'm pretty sure I don't want to test that last theory, and quite frankly you wouldn't be able to prove whether this is right or not anyway.  

At the end of this there were some helpful tips as well.
  1. Keep a journal that you write in everyday.
  2. Celebrate small victories in your writing.
  3. Support eachother 
  4. Learn from books
  5. Keep Writing.
So that was the first Part in my 3 Part Ramblings. Hope you enjoyed it.  Look out for the next one soon.


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