Monday, July 9, 2007

Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward

Recently I had the great privilege of doing a little 'pay it forward' activity. The first writing workshop I ever attended was WRW (Writer's Retreat Workshop) in Erlanger, Kentucky, four years ago. I was terrified and felt like an imposter. I almost turned my car around on the bridge from Cincinnati, but I sucked it up and went anyway. It was the most amazing experience. The photo above was taken off the back porch of the small Catholic retreat facility that has housed the Retreat for many years.
My whole world changed when I walked through that door and met other aspiring writers like me. I felt like my entire life I'd been speaking French, and suddenly I'd landed in France. I came in unsure and left as a writer. A stumbling one, but the tools I received over that ten-day boot camp allowed me to plunge onward with my book.

The next year I attended again with a half-finished manuscript and a pretty decent synopsis. I met with an agent at the Retreat, and she signed me for representation. The following year my manuscript was completed and being shopped, and the following year, this year, I returned as a published author.
I did a lot of speaking and teaching at the workshop, and it was wonderfully rewarding to pay it forward.
The founders are Gary Provost, often called 'the writer's writer' and Gail Provost Stockwell. Sadly, Gary passed away several years ago. One of the tools the workshop provided for me in year-one was a handout called "Gary's ABC's." This year (with Gail's permission) I revised the handout to include some of my own novel editing tips.

Susan's Editing ABC's

(Homage to Gary Provost's ABC's)
A: Active verbs and active characters
B: Brief, cut, cut, cut KILL YOUR DARLINGS
C: Conflict in every scene (two beating hearts locked in battles large and small, that's conflict.)
D: Description—have your description shown in action. Don't stop the action to describe.
E: Emphasis—put your emphasis at the end of the sentence, and often your emphasis at the end of a paragraph (and shhh—hide your clues in the middle of the sentence).
F: Funny isn't limited to comedy writing. Don't force funny, but it has a place in serious writing.
G: Grammar—know it, but don't sweat it.
H: Heat—turn it up. Keep the tensions and conflicts high and on the page.
I: Intention—Every word serves a purpose. Make every word count and make them say what you mean.
J: Journal: exercise those writing muscles.
K: Keep related words together—don't drink coffee with a jerk (unless that's what you mean.)
L: Lead—does your opening sentence hook them by the nose?
M: Music—listen to the music of your words. Do they flow?
N: Never intrude, make the writer invisible on the page
O: Organize your scenes. You may not have written them in the best order for the cause and effect of your story.
P: Pace: Use more short sentences at high tension moments, and shorter scenes toward the books climax. Fast is slow and slow is fast. Accelerate and abbreviate the slow spots, slow and expand time on the action spots.
R: Read your work aloud, the whole book if you can.
S: Style—Make specific word choices that reflect your unique voice. Your character's dialogue should reflect their voices.
T: Transition—"the next morning," "later that day," "back at the ranch." A story isn't everything that happened, it's everything that's important to the story and the reader
U: Up the stakes, milk the tension on every page
V: Verity—Are your characters actions true to their character? Is your story goal true to your heart? Are you telling the truth? Are you telling your character's story?
W: Word choices—Be specific, make them vivid. ("Stumbled," "plodded," "strode" versus "walked.")
X: Exercises—do your writing exercises, find your characters through free-writes and prompts.
Y: You and the reader write the story together. Writing less words will allow your reader to write with you inside her head.
Z: Zeeeeee end!!!!


Joe Moore said...

Susan, what a great story. I had the opportunity to view Gary's video training tape a few years ago and it was amazing. I'm glad you decided to post his wonderful advice here. Now if I can just remember it all with every word I type. Thanks for sharing.

Susan Goodwill said...

I never got to meet Gary, but I've certainly benefited from his legacy. His book "Make Your Words Work" was just re-released. It is awesome.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Susan--what a great list to consult over and over. Actually if you have a copy of the handout I'd love to have it. I'll send you my snail mail.

Susan Goodwill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Goodwill said...

Hi Julia,
I just realized I have have your e-mail. I'll send it as a document in Word. If you need hard copy, let me know your address. I'll mail it out.

Mark Terry said...

When asked, I've always claimed Gary's book, "Make Your Words Work" to be the best book on writing I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them).

Candy Calvert said...

Excellent, Susan--and how very wonderful that you're in a position to Pay It Forward now.
The authors I admire most, are the ones who--no matter how busy, no matter how best selling--remember their roots, and make time to help new writers beginning the journey.

Nina Wright said...

Eloquent post, Susan. This statement is especially apt:

I felt like my entire life I'd been speaking French, and suddenly I'd landed in France.

Mais, oui. C'est si vrai!