Writers’ Retreat – Day One

It’s 11.30pm, so I’m going to cheat here and repost an article I just wrote for the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association blog. If you are an ARWA member and would like to join the discussion tomorrow, please contact me and give me your Skype address.

If you live in Calgary or Southern Alberta, stay safe and warm.

* * *

Despite the flooding here in Calgary, nine of us managed to get together for the first day or our retreat – five in person and four later on in the evening via Skype.

Our discussion brought up a few interesting topics.

1) Should we dumb down our writing – especially vocabulary – for our readers? Most readers read for pleasure/leisure and research shows that the most popular reading level is Grade 8/9. The reader wants to be able to lose himself a story, not constantly looking up the dictionary to find out what a word means. So, yes, do feel free to use the occasional ‘hard’ word but make sure the context is clear. If you want to find out what ‘level’ you write at, check out autocrit. There is also a facility on Word that allows you to do so.

2) Episodic writing. Charles Dickens was the master of episodic writing, but it appears to be having a comeback. Alexander McCall Smith recently released his book 44 Scotland Street. It was first published in The Scotsman, one chapter every weekday for six months – 100 short chapters. Not all the chapters end with a cliffhanger, but McCall knew he had to create an ending which would made the reader want to check in with the story the following day.

So what’s created a renewed interest in the episodic style? It could be the prevalence of blogging – Julie and Julia for example. For a video take on the episodic story, check out The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a fresh retelling of Pride and Prejudice through the daily entry of a modern day blogger.

3) What we sometimes find from both unpublished and multi-published authors is the tendency to recount a scene/event from one person’s POV and then immediately retell the exact same scene from another character’s POV. Unless this is done with great skill it can pull the writer out of the story or bore them. Better to ‘move the story forward’, choose the most relevant POV character and only write the scene once!

We’re going to be meeting at 3pm on Skype tomorrow afternoon. If you’re an ARWA member and would like to join in the conversation you can do so either in person at Diana’s house, or via Skype. Just e-mail Diana with your Skype address and she’ll add you to the list. These are the topics we’ll be discussing:
1) How do we apply the ‘rules’ to our writing yet maintain our own ‘voice’?
2) Define ‘voice’.
3) Give an example of one piece of music/song that triggers your writing – and tell us why?
4) Define success? Does its definition depend upon which stage of the writing journey you are currently on.
5) Can/should an author put too much of themselves into their stories/characters.

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