Thoughts from last year’s Storycrafter’s Retreat

[A word from Susie:

 

About 9 months agoponderers-2009, I birthed a new…idea!  I really wanted to help a handful of serious writers dive into their stories and mentor them through the process of writing a great book. God blessed me with an amazing and dedicated first group of women who not only loved fiction but were willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard. 

 

Nine months later, most of them have finished their novels and moved onto the next ones.  A handful of them are finalists in either the Genesis or Frasier, and quite a few are planning on pitching their novel at ACFW. 

 

 After the retreat, they started a support group within MBT Club Voices to encourage each other  which has now spilled out into a blog they started.  The MBT Ponderers, which shares a wealth of information about writing.  I’m so proud of these writers, and thankful for their willingness to allow me to assist them on their journey.

 

As I prepare for the 2nd annual Storycrafter’s Retreat, I asked Beth Vogt, one of the Ponderers to share with the MBT audience her impressions of the retreat.  Thankyou, Beth!]

 

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beth-vogt-202x300Beth K. Vogt is the editor of Connections,  MOPS International’s leadership magazine, and a regular contributor to MomSense. Beth was a confirmed non-fiction writer until the persistent call of the Voices lured her to the “Dark Side.” Her work-in-progress is a romantic comedy. Her critique groups affectionately call her “The Evil Editor.” To learn more about Beth, visit her at The Writing Road.

By Beth Vogt

 

 

 

You may think a writers conference featuring best-selling Christian author Susan May Warren is all about her.

 

You’d be wrong.

 

 

The StoryCrafting and Coaching Retreat, hosted by Susan last October 23-25 in Minnesota, is all about you.

Susan limited the number of attendees to maximize personal interaction. She welcomed each of the 12 writers with her trademark warm smile. She also handed us a bag filled with several books, a My Book Therapy mug, and an assortment of chocolates. Yum! Once she started teaching, she hardly stopped to take a breath—or a bathroom break, for that matter.

 

 

Susan’s brain is wired for story, the way a master musician’s brain is wired for melody, composition, lyrics and harmony. Throughout the StoryCrafting Retreat, she poured her expertise about plot, character, inciting incidents, scenes and synopsis into an eager audience. We wrote notes until we had writer’s cramp and marveled as Susan brainstormed one woman’s work-in-progress (WIP) on a white board.

 

 

Friday night we watched the movie “Frequency,” complete with popcorn and cookies and apple slices. Yum, again! Susan stopped-started-stopped-started the scenes again and again to highlight the elements of story throughout the movie.

 

 

One of my most valuable items from the conference? A white napkin from a local restaurant, covered with scribbled words and—finally!—the new and improved opening line to my novel. At dinner Saturday night, Susan instructed each of us to grab a napkin and hammer out the hook for our opening paragraph, revealing what’s at stake for our main character. She went around the table and listened to each one, working with us individually until we had it down. After dinner, several of us—Susan included—went back to the conference room and worked on our stories. A late night filled with creativity, laughter and fellowship.

 

 

I came to the StoryCrafting Retreat with my WIP, the desire to ramp-up my fiction writing ability, and—I confess—a little bit of nervousness.

 

 

I left on Sunday with a new opening scene, increased confidence, and a brain filled-to-the-brim with expert advice on writing fiction. I also came away with writing friends, a.k.a. “The Ponderers.” We e-mail each other, Instant Message (IM), talk about our characters, our plots and our families. We believe in each other. Why? Because Susan believed in us as writers—enough to invest her time, her life, into us. For Susan, the StoryCrafting Retreat was a dream come true—devoting focused attention to writers. For her, the weekend was all about us and our writing dreams.

 

 

Word Painting for Emotional Effect

[taken from the July issue of the MBT Ezine. Read more about Word Painting at:  http://voicesmag.mybooktherapy.com]

I love word painting. It’s the last element of texture I add into a piece before I move into polishing. It’s adding those eloquent, specific words and cadences to a sentence or paragraph that not only makes it come alive … but adds in the right emotion. A book is all about connecting to the reader’s emotions, and word painting is the finite art of wooing your words into your reader’s heart. It’s going beyond naming and telling emotions to using the painting of words to evoke the correct feeling.

Let’s take a look. Here’s a piece of word painting from my current novel, Sons of Thunder:

Markos speared the water. The cool lick of it scooped his breath, slicked from his body the heat of the day.

He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor, kicking toward the cave. A deep thrumming rumbled his bones even as he scrabbled over the slippery rock outside the entrance. The jaws raked his skin as he levered himself through a crevice just big enough for a boy of seventeen.

Although it’s an active description, it is meant to create a sense of tension as he pushes himself into the cave. I could have written it more simply: Fear coiled inside him as he pushed himself into the cave. But I wanted the description to convey the emotion, and not name it directly.

How do you word paint for emotional effect? Here are three easy ideas:

  1. Create a Metaphorical Word Pool. As you write, your words will tend toward specific verbs and nouns. Taking a step away from these, you’ll find that they might fall in categories of description. For example, describing the sky, you might say that the clouds swirled against a canvas of blue. Okay, “swirled” and “canvas” both evoke a sense of “painting.” You now have your metaphorical category. Look for other “painting words” as you continue the description — brush, paint, mix, blend, stir. You can also go further, and take from the mind of the painter, or even use well-known painters to bring in emotional metaphor, e.g., lavender splotched the canvas of blue, as if the painter, frustrated, took his brush and swept across with angry, thick strokes.

What metaphorical word pool did I pull from in the above scene?

  1. Pick Verbs that convey the feeling of what you are describing. For example, if I were describing a giant crater in the earth, one made by a meteor, I might use words like jagged, and ripped, and bruised. But if I were describing a hole that would become my long desired swimming pool, I’d go with, scooped, or even carved from the earth. By the way, sometimes, if I’m having trouble finding my metaphorical pool, I just write the description, and see what verbs I naturally use. From there, I can find the metaphorical pool, i.e., in this one, I think of ice cream with the verbs I used for the pool description.

Markos feels like he’s being gulped, or eaten, going into the jaws of the cave, and I wanted to convey a sense of panic as he goes inside. So I used words of violence:  Speared, rumbled, scrabbled, raked.

  1. Give your POV character a physical response to the description. Markos is hot, so the water is cool, yet dangerous. He has mixed emotions about being there — so I show that in the verbs I use. Note the subtle tension in these sentences:

The cool lick (a positive feeling) of it scooped his breath (negative), slicked from his body the heat of the day. (positive)  He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor … (negative).

You could also use a metaphor that captures the physical response, something that would give a similar physical response. For example, in my pool example, I could say: Staring at the dark expanse, edged with rich, chocolate curls of earth, I tasted the cool water on my lips, sweet and sloppy, drenching me. A shiver of delight shimmed right down to my belly and I could hardly wait to dive in.

Obviously, I’m using the feeling of eating ice cream, and equating it with my dreams of diving into my pool.

Don’t use too many metaphors — one strong one will do. But find the right one, and use it well. Word painting is more than just description. It’s using the correct hues and brush strokes to create a landscape of emotion for your reader.

If you’re interested in more about word painting, be sure to attend Rachel and Susie’s Scene Therapy class at the 2010 ACFW conference!

Interested in going deeper in your writing?

Deep and Wide: The Advanced Writer’s Worktext on making your Characters Deeper and your Plot Wider.

The follow-up worktext to From the Inside-Out:

The follow-up worktext to From the Inside …Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you, Deep and Wide utilizes Susan May Warren’s easy to apply explanations, exercises and intuitive methods to teach you advanced fiction writing techniques that will turn any novel from boring to breathtaking.

From a reviewer:

Susan May Warren shines in this book on crafting fiction, using her wit and clear voice to help the reader along in learning the underlying structure and principles that make up a good story / novel. I highly recommend this book as it goes “deeper” and beyond her first book on craft, Inside … Out. Deep and Wide uses excellent and easy-to-understand and apply examples on novel-crafting. This is a must-have book on writing for every novelist pursuing their best work.

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Get started on your Novel Today!

A Therapist Thought…taken from the July Voices Ezine.

Ever read a book and think, “Wow, how did she figure out how to put that sentence, or that paragraph together? How did she pick those words, that item to focus on? How did she … word paint?”

In my feature article in the current issue of the Voices Ezine, “Word Painting for Emotional Effect,” I talk about using the metaphorical word pool to find the right symbol and images.  But I also use a handy acronym to help me develop a word painted description.

It’s called FOCUS:

  • First Impression
  • Observations
  • Close Up,
  • Simile (or Metaphor)

First Impression is all about giving us that overview of the setting.  For example, if you were walking into a conference room, you might say:  The conference room was small but comfortable.  But you could make it stronger with more specific nouns, some POV added, e.g. The owner had designed this room with an eye toward productivity, not power.

Then, go to the Observations. Show a few notable items: No table, just four espresso-brown leather couches like his living room on the ranch, and a couple cigar chairs all in a Camelot circle in the center of the room. Be specific with your nouns and verbs so you can lend a mood without saying outright what that mood is.

Then, do a Close Up—some details that really make the room stand out: His secretary had brewed a fresh pot of coffee and a tray with a fresh pot and bagels centered the middle of the round coffee table.

Finally, end with a Symbol, a metaphor or Simile, something that lends a feeling about the place: Through the giant picture window, he saw sailboats cutting through the Puget Sound like surrender flags against a pristine blue sky.  He checked his watch even as he sat down, hoping no one got too comfortable.

Let’s see how it works with a piece of description:

 

Original piece:

Enormous chandeliers bathed the room in a dreamy light, and sprays of red roses filled the air with the fragrance of romance. An aroma, if she could go by the dancing, laughing, even flirting couples around the room, she wasn’t the only one who’d noticed.

 

First, let’s build in the Focus, or the facts of the event:  the layout, the overall design, the crowd: (And we’re going to put it into her POV)

She had to admit, even she hadn’t expected the gala splashed into the once-dreary ballroom décor of the hotel. She’d walked into a five-star event.

Now, Observations:

Everything—from the food tables overflowing with pâté, and smoked fish, croissants and mini-quiches, cheesecake and chocolate layer cakes, to the rich sway of violins from the orchestra, gave the room a feeling of decadence.

Close Up: And, again, keep it in the POV of the character. In this scene, the heroine has a mix of emotions: Worry that the event will go off (she’s the party planner) and satisfaction in a job well done.  So, we’ll work in some strong verbs and adjectives, along with her body language to convey this.

Chandeliers, their crystals dripping like tears, splashed dappled light around the room, the dancers in their glittering gowns and resplendent tuxedos moving in and out of the shadows, the sparkle. A heady mix of romance—from the sprays of red and white roses, to the laughter of chattering voices—beckoned her to join them, but she stood at the lip of the party, her arms clutching her wrap.

 

Now, let’s add in the Symbol, something that shows us how she feels about the place, or something to make us remember it.

 

Magic.  As if Cinderella, unable to fathom her name on the guest list, and still dressed in rags, she couldn’t enter the ball.  Not while knowing that in a moment, the clock might strike, shatter the fantasy.

The fantasy had to last long enough to raise the money they needed for her sister’s home.

Now, let’s go back and edit it a bit, smooth it out:

Somehow, she’d turned the once-dreary ballroom décor of the hotel into a five-star event.  The room glittered with decadence, from the food tables overflowing with pâté and smoked fish, croissants and mini-quiches, cheesecake and chocolate layer cakes, to the rich sway of violins from the orchestra. Chandeliers, their crystals dripping like tears, splashed dappled light upon the dancers in their glittering gowns and resplendent tuxedos moving in and out of the sparkle. A heady mix of romance—from the sprays of red and white roses, to the laughter of chattering voices—beckoned her to join them, but she stood at the lip of the party, her arms clutching her wrap.

Magic.  As if Cinderella, unable to fathom her name on the guest list and still dressed in rags, she couldn’t enter the ball.  Not while knowing that in a moment the clock might strike and shatter the fantasy.

Please, let it last long enough to raise the money they needed for her sister’s home.

See how the scene is deepened?  We see the beauty, and her fears—and it allows us to root for her and long to push her onto the dance floor.

Word paint with FOCUS … and your story will come alive.

Taken from the July issue of the My Book Therapy Voices Ezine.  Read more at:  http://voicesmag.mybooktherapy.com