WE Master Class – What’s the Point of This Anyway?

For those just joining me, I started going through the Writing Excuses Master Class several weeks ago. I haven’t posted every entry of homework and the like, so this week’s post jumps forward into story structure. I’ve done this because, well, who wants to see every bit of someone else’s homework? And because I would rather point emphatically to the Writing Excuses Podcast and encourage authors to go try this for themselves.

That being said, let’s jump in.

The first episode regarding story structure is a bit of a mesh between what I want to call theme and fuel. Theme defined as the overall purpose of the novel, and fuel being defined as the way in which you encourage readers to keep reading the book.

I say this because much of the conversation questions what the book is about and what the author is aiming for, which would be the theme. Now, having done this writing thing for a while, I can admit that when I deliberately hunt for a theme at the beginning of the writing process, I constantly fall short. Maybe it’s the discovery writer in me, but I have to get the rough draft down first and then I can spot the major themes of the novel.

Something that I took away from the class, and that I will be using in my current editing project, is asking what answers the reader will be looking for in the next chapter. Doing this deliberately, chapter by chapter, is sure to have an effect on the novel as a whole and I am excited to put it into action.

The assignment from this particular episode is rather involved and required that I go out and choose a favored book/movie/show and reverse engineer the plot structure, paying close attention to questions asked and answered and any subplots that ran throughout. I did do this, but I am not going to share it here because… Yeah. Who wants to read my homework?

 

Advertisements

Interesting Characters – WE Master Class

For the last several weeks I’ve been undergoing the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a couple years ago. If you’re not familiar with the folks at Writing Excuses, I highly recommend them. They don’t require a ton of your time (15 minutes long, though it does sometimes stretch to 20) and even if they talk about things you already know, it’s a discussion that might open you up to something you hadn’t heard before.

A prime example is their conversation on interesting characters (Episode 10.5).

This concept was not new to me. I knew about character agency and stakes and accountability walking into it, and yet I was able to glean a little bit more from them. While this series of blog posts are supposed to be focused on a new novel (fictional characters body snatch people via a new reader’s app) and I have been having fun working within that venue, I found this episode helped one of my other works in progress more.

Castle of Three Kings follows Kevin Campbell, a sixteen-year-old boy who finds himself stuck in this cursed castle. The world is interesting, the reason for the curse is solid, and the major players are all colorful or tragic, but Kevin is… well… boring.

Somehow I managed to write 3/4 of a novel with a boy who has only the vaguest character arc, tons of agency (he doesn’t want to die), and zero personality.

Part of me wants to blame this on the fact that I typed the whole first draft instead of doing it by hand (my preferred method). Whatever got me into this position, I’m here now and when I start editing next month I will be concentrating on his arc using some of the methods from this class.

In particular, I’ll be playing with the sliding scales of competency and proactive and likability. These were discussed in other podcasts they’ve done, but they mention it again in this one.

To learn more about the Writing Excuses Podcast and its lovely, talented authors, you can go here.

For kicks and giggles, I’m going to go ahead and put a snippet of the new novel here. This is one of my character auditions from the last lesson.

Kenzie Graham knew the voices in her head weren’t real. She’d lived twenty-three years without them yammering about violins and villains and she was damn well going to live another twenty-three without them. Preferably more than twenty-three, but at this point she was willing to bargain.

She strode down the hall, clutching her Jefferson’s School of Technology computer pad to her chest and avoiding eye contact with fellow students. It wasn’t that she was shy, or even the fact that she was scared – well, petrified – that kept her head down.

No, she couldn’t look at anyone because anytime she did it seemed to trigger Sherlock.

Yes, Sherlock, as in Mr. Holmes himself, the fictional detective that should have stayed fictional. He leaped to vociferous life whenever she locked eyes with someone, running through a list of deductions faster than she could blink. Which in some cases was helpful, he did bark to life in time to warn her away from a spiked drink, but after thirteen hours of his incessant badgering, she was quite done.

Professor Hildon’s experimental app had a major glitch and no amount of extra credit was going to keep her quiet.

“Woah, Kenzie, wait up!” A familiar voice called from behind.

She turned on instinct, surprised and pleased that Cory Miller would seek her out. But Sherlock roused, she could sense him stirring, and as Cory sauntered up there was the familiar barrage of insights; tousled shirt, fraying at the hems of his jeans, sand on his shoes, and the faint odor of decomposing seaweed.

Underachiever, Sherlock said. You can do better.

Kenzie tried for a smile. “Hey, Cory.”

“You bailed early last night,” Cory said with an easy grin.

Please, there’s nothing easy about that grin, Sherlock said. Look at his eyes, he’s worried.

Gritting her teeth, she told Sherlock to stuff it and looked away from Cory. “Yeah, I had homework to do.”

“Oh, right,” Cory said, sounding disappointed.

Crestfallen, my dear. The word you want is crestfallen. HE obviously wanted to spend time with you.

Kenzie held tighter to her computer pad, one part elated at this news and the other part damning Sherlock to hell. Or wherever fictional characters go when they die.

Assuming one believes in an everlasting soul, I should say I don’t have one and therefore don’t qualify for either heaven or hell. But chin up, Kenzie, if he is so distressed, it means he couldn’t have been the one to spike your drink.

“Well of course he didn’t,” Kenzie said, and to her mortification, she realized she’d said it out loud.

Cory blinked at her. “Are you OK?”

“Not really,” she said, going for the truth because why the hell not? It wasn’t unheard of for software to go bonkers, especially in its developmental stage. But she had signed an NDA before taking the extra credit, so there was only so much she could impart without jeopardizing her academic career. “Have you seen Professor Hildon?”

Character Auditions – WE Master Class Blog

Two weeks ago I mentioned the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a few years back. This is a free class that you can access via audio or transcript on the Writing Excuses website and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who enjoys the writing process.

Moving along in the course, I have my initial idea: a new app that can be downloaded directly into our consciousness goes horribly awry. Famous fictional characters bleed into our victim’s minds and take over, bringing new life to some of the more heinous creations in literature as well as the heroes meant to catch them.

I recognize that I’m going to be reading a lot of classics to widen my scope of literary characters I can choose from. The low-hanging fruit, in this case, would be Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty and I think I’m going to go ahead and use those two, if only as introductory players that help the narrative get moving.

The next assignment was character auditions, which is a new concept for me. Normally the character comes before the idea, and the plot grows out of what I know about them. This is an organic process that I have enjoyed over the last decade of writing, but I’m going to admit that I enjoyed doing character auditions.

The act of trying different voices helped broaden my understanding of the idea as a whole. From the surly detective who has to figure out which character is infecting which avid reader, to the dirt-poor boy who hacked his way into downloading the app, I was able to explore different ways this story could go.

In the end, I was stuck between two choices, which I will share now.

Detective Josephine Margot, first person POV. When writing out her first 500 words, I got a Blade Runner/Johnny Mnemonic feel to the narrative that I liked. She’s a cynical woman who gets called to a murder scene on a prominent college campus, which she is equal parts annoyed about and relieved to be working. Because as long as she’s on this case, she doesn’t have to be downtown at her brother’s wedding.

Makenzie Leeds, third person POV. When writing her first segment, I got a lot more humor, which I enjoyed because I always enjoy humorous voices. Also, I grabbed the low-hanging fruit and had her infected with Sherlock Holmes. In this scenario, she’d downloaded the app as part of an extra credit assignment and found herself plagued with an additional voice in her head.

I may bounce between the two before I settle, depending on what the assignments show me in the coming weeks. Until then, I’ll play around with Jo and Kenzie and see if maybe I can blend them together.

 

Master Class in Writing

A few years back Writing Excuses put out a series on their podcast that they titled their Master Class. At the time I was a single parent working full time and going to school and didn’t have the extra space in my life to fully commit to the program.

But that’s changed! And because the lovely people at Writing Excuses keeps an archive – and even an easy link to this particular series on their site – I can access this class.

For free, I might add.

Now, I am actually going through the transcripts and reading them because I learn better that way. And because this is my writing blog and I can do whatever the heck I want with it, I’m going to go ahead and keep a log on how I am progressing.

I highly recommend the Writing Excuses podcast to any author out there – both aspiring and already published. If nothing else, they help remind me that my struggles in producing readable/relatable fiction are shared by many.

Normally I get ideas and then start writing, which leads to several false starts and concepts that never bloom to full life. The first couple of lessons in this series is about playing with ideas, digging deeper, and brainstorming until you find the right fit.

The concept that helped the most was asking who the idea would help or hurt the most. For instance, if we had an app that could download books into our minds, it would help students the most. But it would probably hurt teachers and the underprivileged.

Why yes, this is the idea I’m going to play with during this class. Thanks for asking.

This led me to the question of how we can abuse this technology. Uploading too many books, for instance, might cause information bleed – where narratives mix to become something new. And there’s dirty hacking, for the underprivileged who want access, which would have glitches and consequences of their own.

Next week, I’ll post the winner of my “character audition” for this book. The assignment is to try out five different characters for the main POV of the novel and thus far it has been fun.

If you’d like to try this Master Class, it is free on the Writing Excuses website. Just scroll down until you see it in the left margin. You can’t miss it.