Posts Tagged ‘Writing Classes’

Writing is a solitary affair, as many have noted before. And, ironically, filmmaking is a highly collaborative effort, although often screenwriters are excluded from the process once the screenplay has received its final edits. This past weekend I participated in an innovative, collaborative INTENSE workshop for screenwriters that involved a talented group of actors as well. This connection proved to be a unique and fascinating education for all of us. The more we got involved, the more our work resembled play. And when your work feels like play, you know you’re on the right track.

394540090_28fc78726f_zThe workshop, called The Ring Screenwriting Intensive, was developed and taught by Michael St. John Smith of McIlroy & Associates of Vancouver, an experienced actor and screenwriter. The three day workshop covered both the basics and many unique, in depth techniques for screenwriters to learn and hone their craft. Scenes written during the workshop were then cast and read by actors also participating in training workshops. Bringing together these two groups is both innovative and extremely valuable. As I mentioned, they don’t often work together, and yet there is so much to benefit both when they can begin to see how the others think and work, not the least of which is a larger understanding and respect for the skills and discipline of each group. Working face to face with actors and having them bring your written words to life, all in the matter of a couple of days, is at once terrifying, validating, exhilarating and humbling. A writer immediately realizes that locked away in their solitary writing studio, they cannot achieve a completely realized project without a deeper understanding of what others with talent and specialized skills will bring to it once it leaves their hands. One is left with a sense of both renewed confidence and also humility.

Energy levels were very  high all weekend, and although drained by the end, I felt an almost euphoric energy both within myself and in the room as this collection of creative, talented and passionate writers worked through exercises, viewed film clips, shared ideas, sharpened their pencils and immersed themselves in storytelling. It was electrifying. Afterwards, as the workshop wound down, it was clear we were already feeling a sense of withdrawal from the intimate community of minds and personalities that we’d forged in such a short time.

Fortunately, The Ring workshop is new, and so its developers, Michael and Andrew, are very open to input regarding improvements, further developments and platforms to allow this fledgling community of writers to be sustained. Walking away at the end of the weekend, I can say I have a healthy appetite for more of the same, and a strong desire to ensure this community lives on and thrives. There is no excuse for sitting in your writing studio alone and cut off from the world when a community of writers and others can so energize and empower your work. Besides that it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I strongly recommend The Ring workshop for those in the Vancouver area, but regardless go out and find like-minded individuals with whom to share your ideas and passion. There’s nothing better.

Have you had a similarly empowering experience? In the comment section below, tell me about your experiences working with other writers or actors to develop your craft, or a similar experience in a different field.


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Well I see it’s quite a while since I added anything new to my site. I have a good excuse, honest.

I mentioned in What’s New back in April that I’d been taking a few courses. Well, I sure did. I don’t know what came over me. I seem to have discovered a multitude of wonderful resources and slipped temporarily into a kind of addiction to learning. After taking two online course from Laurie Schnebley at WriterU entitled the Hero’s Personality Ladder and Plotting Via Motivation, I judged a contest, took a WordPress class online through the RWA-PRO group, then headed off to the Banff Centre for the Arts for the weeklong Writing with Style Workshop, as mentioned earlier.

Not yet ready to lie down, I then attended the RWAGVChapter Write On Vancouver Conference and enjoyed the amazing Michael Hauge’s “Style Mastery” Workshop. Then at the end of May, the RWAGVChapter hosted an all day workshop with the intrepid Bob Meyer on the Warrior Writer. Throughout May, I was also taking Margie Lawson’s Deep Edits course online, by which time I was practically brain dead. I just couldn’t keep up with the assignments, even though the material was fascinating and I wanted to juice it for every ounce of wisdom (and trust me, Margie has plenty to offer.)

I think that’s when I turned off and tuned out completely, and after a brief reprieve, decided to go back to working on the first draft of my WIP, Coming About (see Books.) I was still trying to write 50K words between February and the RWA National Conference in NYC in late June, which, sadly, I was unable to attend.  Nevertheless, I actually did ultimately succeed in meeting the goal, and have continued onward through the summer adding to that total, so that now, I’m about 75% complete the first draft of the ms. with about 78,500 words to date.

Margie’s material is so terrific that it was hard to keep writing when I knew there was still so much to learn. But if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that the first draft hasn’t much to do with all those terrific writing skills. Those are best applied later, during revisions. It’s a funny thing. I’ve always preferred writing the first draft, and rather dreaded the revisions. More on that later.

My brain is so overfilled with fantastic new knowledge that it’s difficult to recap, but I want to say at least one pithy thing about each of the courses that I’ve taken this spring. Firstly, in The Hero’s Personality Ladder, I learned that it’s critical to know your protagonist very well before you begin to write. It’s important to understand both the hero’s strengths and weaknesses, because these tell you how s/he will react to stimuli, and this clues you into what obstacles to throw in their path to best reveal their transformation. Also, these strengths and weaknesses have to be revealed early in the story.

Progressing on from there, Plotting Via Motivation delves deeper into character, and motivation, including backstory, to dig down beneath the surface. By asking Why? we can understand what really makes our characters tick, and expose their most basic needs. Sometimes these are selfish and not-so-honourable, but they are the motives and needs that make the characters both human and believable. Weaving together the personalities and motivations of the main characters reveals the warp and weft of your plot. Et Voila.

About the WordPress course, I can only say to my RWA-PRO peers, THANK YOU! For a somewhat-too-old-to-be-quite-comfortable with this technology, this course demystified and made available the tools to create a web presence which was before unavailable. It turned out to be quite simple. Which is not to say I’m ready for regular blog posts. But it’s a start.

The Writing with Style workshop at the Banff Centre was a once in a lifetime rich experience. There is simply nothing like total immersion in a full time writing environment surrounding by peers who are on the same journey. I learned valuable skills from each of the stylistas in my Novel-First Chapter workshop, and we all thrived under the expert guidance of award winning author Audrey Thomas. From these talented writers I learned something about dreams, voice, history, detail, humour, culture and discipline. Most of all I learned to believe in and never to short-change your own vision as a writer.

Michael Hauge’s workshop was an interesting take on similar material to Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey but with a focus on Michael’s massive experience with screenwriting and vetting. With this unique perspective came new terminology and some questions and answers about story structure and the relationship between the hero’s inner and outer journey that were fresh and helpful.

Bob Mayer’s workshop focussed on the Writer as a professional. The material is available in his book Warrior Writer: From Writer to Published Author and delves into the psychology of the writer’s mind to help articulate personal goals and achieve them. It’s an aspect of the writing life that’s seldom touched upon, and Bob digs deep into character to help us understand what we want and what might be holding us back. (I will I will I WILL send out those D**M queries!) Thanks so much Bob!

Back to Margie Lawson. What can I say. I’ve learned something valuable from all my teachers, but I’ve been looking for the tools that Margie teaches for years. Until now, I’ve approached revisions in an optimistic but fairly hapless way. Margie’s Deep Edits and Rhetorical Devices class gave me a system to examine my writing, and that of others, and to really understand what it’s doing and HOW. It’s rational, which I guess I like. There’s often so much going on in my head that I can’t pin it down, and end up spinning my wheels (cliche alert! ; )) and feeling helpless, so I like systems to organize my thoughts. Now I’m looking forward to finishing my first draft of Coming About and getting to work tightening up the first two books before coming back at the new one with fresh eyes and VERY sharp tools. So Exciting!

I so enjoyed Margie’s class that I also downloaded the lecture packets for her other two classes: Empowering Character Emotions and Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist. I’ve just started working through the second one (I know, I know, I’m supposed to be taking a  break from courses, but…) WOW. It’s great material. What can I say?

Back to writing. Just coming to the juicy part now. We’ll see if all this stuff really works. Cheerio.

Oh! I’m also going to test the Pomodoro method as recommended by Randy Ingermanson. Just sayin’ : )

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At the moment I’m still learning to use WordPress and create a website, but haven’t had much time to add to it lately, what with all my other commitments. What you see here is an ongoing WIP. I want to share some of the terrific tidbits of information I’ve learned as part of the research for my first two manuscripts, especially fascinating things about civilian life in London during the latter part of WWII, the V-2 and other bombs, and encryption and radiography, all of which weave together beautifully to enrich the backstory in this novel about a young Canadian woman who gets caught up in the mystery of her new employers past. Click on Books for more.

My other, and closer-to-the-heart WIP is a novel that’s about 34,000 words into 100,000 about an independent-minded dot-com millionaire whose summer plans are spoiled when he’s expected to share childcare duties with his nemesis, a shrewish career-driven architect. Both of them have a lot to learn about themselves before they are ready for each other. I’m still committed to writing no less than 50,000 words before June 28th, 2011, despite all the delicious distractions.

Last weekend, I returned from a hard-working, fun and fascinating week at The Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta for their week-long Writing With Style program. I met and worked with a terrific bunch of writers from all genres and walks of life. There were poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction groups, but I spent my week in the Novel-First Chapter workshop, led by advisor, fellow British Columbian, Audrey Thomas, author of  more than 15 novels and short story collections, and more than 20 radio plays, and multi-award winning author. She has been recognized provincially, winning the Ethel Wilson Prize three times, been nominated for the Govenor General’s Award twice, been a recipient of the Order of Canada, the Marian Engel Award and many others. Needless to say it was a great honour and thrill to work closely with Audrey over the week long course, and to benefit from her wisdom, insight and sharply honed writer’s skills. I’d like to extend thanks also to my fellow stylistas in the class, a group of wonderfully smart and talented writers who worked so hard and helped me hone my craft as well. Thanks so much to: Al, Alec, Alicia, Andres, Elaine, Kris, Sonja and Tim, and best of luck with your writing projects.

Doggy in the Window by Elaine Arsenault

Bad Latitudes by Al Pope

I seem to be addicted to taking courses lately. Starting this week, I’ll be taking an online course called Deep Edits with Margie Lawson through WriterU. I’m also looking forward to a workshop with Bob Mayer May 28th, offered by my local RWAChapter, the RWAGVC. As well, they are hosting the Write On, Vancouver Conference May 13-15, 2011, featuring 8.5 hours of workshops with Hollywood story and script consultant Michael Hauge. Exciting!

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