Tinker Mountain Days Four and Five

The craft lecture on Thursday was by my workshop instructor, Fred Leebron, and was entitled, “Achieving Complexity in Narrative.” Fred had said his workshop didn’t need to attend because we’d already heard it, but most of us did show up. And a good thing, too. The second time around you realize all the things you missed the first time.

Though Fred had some interesting things to say about plot (“Plotting can be a literary straightjacket–it makes you think as if all stories have already been written.”), he emphasized his standard points about how to make your fiction transport the reader into your world and to resonate with the reader, i.e., go on beyond the end and stick with the reader. Fred then described the various ways to create the complexity needed to both transport the reader and have your work resonate with him or her, and it can be anything from judicious line editing, to multiple POVs and narrative arcs, and many more until, he says, “you get to the end of your narrative after exhausting all the possibilities.” Exhausting all the possibilities is the point where you can finally begin to revise.

The craft lecture concluded with an exercise we could take home with us to help with characterization, an exercise designed to develop the “shades” of a character: Describe what the character is most ashamed of, what haunts him/her the most, when he or she came close to doing someone harm, when he or she was the most humane, what he or she wants the most, and what he or she doesn’t want at all. You may never use the answers in a story, but you’ll understand the character better and make him or her layered and complex.

Day Four’s workshop session focused on dialogue and the various ways you can layer time in a story with dialogue, enlarge the cast of characters, and reveal things a character doesn’t know. Tension, important to story structure, can be both created and enhanced by dialogue that contradicts, is passive aggressive, ignores, or even agrees with.

Day Five’s craft lecture was on screen-writing, and I’ll write something on that later. The final day’s workshop session began with a discussion of drafts of our work. “The first draft,” said Fred, “is what the character wants. The final draft is what the reader wants.” I’d never quite thought of it that way, but essentially that is the case.

The rest of the time before the final critique of the week was a free-wheeling Q&A about writing–using substory, flashbacks and flashforwards, when to use dreaming (“economically,” says Fred), and how to give your endings “bite.”

After the last person’s critique, it was time for goodbyes. The week flew by and, for me, is immeasurable in terms of what I learned. Fred Leebron gives you a lot to think about and not just for the five days of the workshop; for the rest of your writing life. I’m already looking forward to next year!

 

Tinker Mountain Day One

“The only way to bring your novel to the final level is to address what worries you the most about it.”

So said workshop instructor Fred Leebron after having us answer, to ourselves, three questions he posed:

What excites you most about your novel?

What worries you most about your novel?

What do you want to accomplish in your novel?

The answers to those questions should all be the same, and that’s where you have to focus during the revision process. For me, the answer to all three was “It’s a radical departure from what I usually write.”

And this is just one example of a constant three hours of mental exercises about the novel excerpts we submitted for the workshop. It was a grueling yet very enlightening afternoon, preceded by Pinckney Benedict’s morning craft lecture “From Page to Screen.”

Benedict explained that when you attempt to bring a work to the screen, you can be successful only through “the power of collaboration.” He described the collaboration not only between him and the filmmaker but between them and the small town where they shot the very (very) low-budget movie version of one of Benedict’s most anthologized short stories, “Miracle Boy.”

Much of the collaboration Benedict acknowledges is accidental but because he and the filmmaker had a strong professional and personal relationship before the project, there was automatic trust. Benedict knew his friend would do his story justice.

We got to view the seventeen-minute film, which richly brought to life the short story I was very familiar with. “Thinking cinematically,” Benedict said, “helps you write how things look.”

Probably his best advice of the craft lecture was, “While you write, indulge the fantasy that your writing will win a Pulitzer or will become a movie. Why not? You can always dream.”

Leebron’s craft discussion on the first day of the workshop was intense and packed with information–he accompanied his presentation with a thirty-two page handout. It was complex yet simple in content. It’s all stuff I’ve heard before in various writing classes and workshops; yet, it was far more coherent and better explained than I’ve ever experienced. Conflict, for example, is far more complicated than we think and yet expressed in such simple terminology.

Leebron moved on to narrative arcs (using the example of The Great Gatsby), how to write movement in your work, how to make your work resonate, and more. It was a ten-pages-of-notes day. Great stuff.

Tomorrow is the first of the critiques, and I’m up second, purely by coincidence of having a last name that begins with D and close to the top of the alphabet. The craft lecture for tomorrow is by poet Thorpe Moeckel, and his topic is “Food and Drink in Poetry: The Techniques, Trappings, and Themes.”

In the evening is the time set aside for student readings, and I signed up and will read my short story, “Marakata,” which recently took third place in a contest.

Another busy day to look forward to.