Friday, February 13, 2015

Some Wisdom from Story Masters

Christopher Vogler, me, Donald Maass, James Scott Bell
Ruby and me
Here I am with three of the best teachers on writing and a new friend, Ruby, who is just a bridge away!

I thought about consolidating my thoughts more coherently about this workshop but decided to share what's not widely available in the books and where my mind took me. So rambly style, here are my impressions.

Chris has a lot of the East in him. Don is NY. And Jim represents the West. I found myself thinking, it's a darn good thing we're raising our kids in the South because they'll know how to shoot a gun when the time comes. LOL. I know, what a random thought, but it's not. Don had asked, "Who are we?" Silence descended as we processed the question. "We are certainly not the greatest generation." He paused. "We are the helpless generation." Bingo. Why? I think it's because people don't believe we have anything to fight for. And this is why I am glad to be living in the South, because here it is so much easier to teach the children moral truths, that there are some things worth fighting for. Studying To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was such a brilliant choice because it brought to light the kinds of books we should be striving to write, books that are salt and light, books that make us want to be better. Each of them spoke about this. How great books enlighten us.

ChrisV spoke about wants vs. needs. We identify with the hero because we want what he wants. We connect. But the hero has a journey to make and it's often about learning what he needs. He made a very important point. People come for the thrill of the story, but they stay for the lesson! The story of Rumpelstiltskin illustrates this beautifully. The girl makes a deal with the imp. He gives her what she wants in a twisty way. But what she *needs* to learn is the value of human life. 

So study mythology and the Hero's journey. We have so much to learn. I like Jane Yolen's thoughts on mythology (Touch Magic) as well as Tolkein's and Chesterton's. These giants have deepened not only my understanding of story but of my faith. It's all good! So it was especially wonderful to have a workshop like this, so highly focused on structure and craft. Sometimes I wonder why everybody is not already Catholic because the story of Christ is the greatest story ever. Creation. Sacrifice. Redemption! What else is there?

At Fort Sumter
Some talk about ISIS came up. And oh boy, don't even compare the Crusades or the Inquisitions to ISIS. I don't know how many in the West are even acquainted with Muslims, or if they know anything about Islam, but I grew up in Bhopal, which has a sizeable Muslim population (over 25%) and believe me, it is not the religion of peace as the West might have you believe. Islam means "submit." If a Hindu marries a Muslim, she must convert. Or die. They do not believe Jesus died on the cross. Folks, in the Art of War, the first principle is to know your enemy.

I won this little book: The Art of War for Writers from Carol's blog. I'd read it a few years ago, but I feel like a warrior owning it and Jim signed it for me!!! Thank you Carol and thank you, Jim, for writing the book!

By the way, James Scott Bell has a new little book with a great new concept about writing from the middle. He speaks about the mirror moment. Of course, I had to go see what exactly happens in the middle of my polished manuscript (that needs another polish now). And wouldn't you know it, I didn't just have a metaphorical mirror, but a real one, where the main character is asking, who am I, where am I going, is this the person I want to be and then the rest of the book is about dealing with the change of heart that occurs. Powerful stuff. Did I plan it? Not exactly. But a little death occurs in the middle.

Ravenel Bridge, taken from Fort Sumter -- you should be thinking about plot points I and II :)
It's good to overlay the 3-act structure with the hero's journey. My favorite is the 9-box method, which I first saw on the Blueboards. And there's the wonderful Snowflake method too. The idea is to use all the tools there are to help you build a solid story upon.

So that Don can come and talk about emotions. Wah!

Don Maass is really good at making you look at the emotional content. We did an exercise writing about joy. Really capturing the sensory details of that moment. Now find a place in the manuscript to give that moment to our character. We read to feel powerful emotions. One thing we concentrated upon was secondary emotions. How to use those to bring out the primary emotions in a reader. Example: The scene in TKAM when the trial is about to begin. Scout is describing it practically as a picnic! A gala event. The whole town is there. But underneath, we sense the dread. And it's powerful. His Breakout Novel Workbook allowed me (a nonfiction, shorty-short writer) to complete a novel. And his 21st Century Fiction is helping me to dig deeper. Folks, do the writing exercises at home. I can guarantee you that your stories will be better. He pushes and pushes you to take your story to the next level. In the space of these three days, I worked on a new (I thought MG novel, but it's really YA, but I feel as though I have material now for three books. Heaven forbid I write a trilogy, when one book will suffice. I am, after all, a magazine writer, who tries to be economical, though you might not believe me with the length of this blog post ... but I am confident that my story is worthy.

And so, I hope I've left you with enough wisdom to inspire and encourage you to study and write. Never give up. One tip from me. Deconstruct.

Sullivan's Island, taken from Fort Sumter
I take apart stories to see how they are put together. This is how I learned to write a multi-scene short story. I did this for a couple of novels. And now I realize I need to do this more, so that I can internalize it even more. This is what Story Masters do as well. They wrote their books after analyzing hundreds of books and movies (what fun research, eh?). Do it for yourself.

I cut out from the workshop a bit early to go to Mass. We only have a month until Laetare Sunday ... and choir practice was a balm to calm my buzzing brain. It was lovely to give thanks to God for this opportunity and to pray for everyone at the workshop and their safe return home to their families. This photo was taken from Fort Sumter a couple of years ago, but there she is ... Stella Maris! I leave you with one of my favorite hymns. Wishing you and your sweethearts a loving and lovely Saint Valentine's Day!


Leandra Wallace said...

Wow, sounds like it was a great workshop! And is that Don Maas, as in 'the' Don Maas? Wow, again. =)

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for sharing all that you learned. Glad you got your book signed (how timely--thank the Lord!) and sounds as if you were stretched in many, many ways. Glad you found a mirror in the middle of your story. WOW!!

Vijaya said...

Leandra, it was a wonderful workshop and best of all, I loved how well the three complement each other. Someone called them the three tenors, but I would call them a trio -- a tenor, baritone and bass. And Don really makes you dig deep.

Carol, that book makes me feel like a warrior! Fight the good fight! Thank you!

Mirka Breen said...

What a joy to see you so joyous, Vijaya.(Yes, this is an echo playing on the sound of you name. Just showing off.)

Faith E. Hough said...

Thanks for sharing this great amount of wisdom! What an excellent workshop!
Now I hope you're staying warm while you put it all to practice--I heard there was some cold weather on its way to SC (or maybe it's already there?)!

Vijaya said...

Mirka, I'm still gleaning ... and at home we're still talking story.

Faith, pray for me. The cold is getting to me and we have lacrosse and rugby games. I may freeze to death before I get a chance to write anything good.

Becky Shillington said...

Thank you so much for this, Vijaya. You really did get to spend time learning at the feet of the Story Masters!