Note One: Writing Tips from Our Teachers
From Gerald Jones (Finding Your Story, 8 sessions beginning Jan. 14)
When I get stuck on page 100, the problem is almost always on page 50. Well, not necessarily page 50. It might be on page 62 or page 37. Or even, sometimes, on page 3. The point I'm making is, time and time again, when I've found myself unable to get past "what's supposed to happen now," or the scene I'd expected to flow smoothly is suddenly refusing to be written, I've eventually discovered that the problem lay in some wrong turn I took long before. I may have sent a character off in what seemed like the right direction at the time but is now clearly throwing him face-first into a brick wall, or I may have revealed something that I should have withheld until now, or I may have withheld something that the reader really ought to have known a long time ago. Whatever it is, I won't be able to write today until I figure out what I got wrong last week or last month.
So I've been training myself, whenever I'm stuck or confused long enough to know that it isn't just about not getting enough sleep last night or being distracted by my Christmas-shopping list, to scroll back over whatever plot thread or thematic line has led me to where I am until I find something that doesn't feel so right anymore. I may resist doing it furiously, because I felt so good about being on page 100, and I really hate the idea of being back on page 67 or 50 or 32 (or, God forbid) 3 again. But I've learned that I'll never win that fight. I just try to console myself with the reminder that in writing, at least, I get to change the past to make the present more comfortable. I don't get that luxury in the rest of my life.
Note Two: Our Latest Favorite Book on Writing
From Xandra Castleton (Screenwriting Workshop, 8 sessions beginning Feb. 5)
Quick, list the first memorable characters in fiction - on-screen or on the page - that come to mind. Travis Bickle in Paul Schrader’s Taxi
Driver, Lila in Marilynne Robinson's Lila, Mozart in Peter Schaffer's Amadeus… The list may be wildly diverse but one commonality remains: unforgettable characters make for unforgettable films, novels, or short stories.
The inspiration for a fascinating character can come from anywhere, but creating a well-drawn character requires the work of character development. In my screenwriting classes I assign readings and exercises drawn from Linda Seger's guide to character development, Creating Unforgettable Characters. Seger covers everything from character research to avoiding stereotypes, with questions at the end of each chapter that help the writer apply these concepts to his or her own work of fiction. Her chapter on creating character relationships has been especially useful to me and to my students as we apply the elements of attraction, conflict, contrast and transformation to the relationships between our characters. This is a guide to making our characters come alive. (Seger works in the film industry, but her book is geared toward any writer of fiction.)
Note Three: What We’re Reading Now
From Laura Fraser (Personal Essay: From Idea to Draft In One Day, Jan. 18)
The book I am giving everyone for the holidays is Shebooks' first print anthology, Whatever Doesn't Kill You: Six Memoirs of Resilience, Strength, and Forgiveness. The book is a gorgeous collection of mini-memoirs of women facing serious life challenges–war reporting, sexual abuse, childhood dangers and disappointments–who bravely transform them, through writing, into stories that will move us all. The award-winning authors—Mary Jo McConahay, Faith Adiele, Ethel Rohan, Barbara Graham, Beth Kephart, and Susan Ito—write with what Virginia Woolf described as a “fierce attachment to truth,” in pieces that are not only honest, but beautifully crafted.
I am biased: I'm the editorial director of Shebooks, and put together the anthology. But these are the six most moving memoirs I've ever read under one cover. They're particularly great for writers to read, because each is a tight narrative in only 10,000 words, with huge impact. See more at www.shebooks.net/blog/
Note Four: Winter Classes & Workshops