April 16, 2011
As Vice-President of CANSCAIP, one of my duties is to coordinate the annual Packaging Your Imagination conference. If you like to write, illustrate, or perform for children and teens, please join me at Victoria College in Toronto on Saturday, November 5th. You can:
- start the day with a Welcome Address by Governor-General’s Award winner Sarah Ellis.
- choose three Workshops in your special area of interest. Workshops include master-level sessions intended for established writers and illustrators — as well as a session for beginners. All others sessions are at the intermediate level. Topics range from how to craft a picture book to creating graphic novels to how to pitch your work.
- join with the whole group for a Keynote Address from renowned author/illustrator Loris Lesynski.
- end the day with a Pitch Perfect manuscript/portfolio critiquing session. Get a one-paragraph pitch plus 1000 words critiqued by agent Ali McDonald or editor Gail Winskill in a ten-minute private session. Or get five portfolio pieces critiqued by art director Andrea Casault. Space is limited, and spaces will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Register early to get your first choice in workshops and one of the limited number of Pitch Perfect critiquing sessions.
For more information, go to Packaging Your Imagination 2011.
April 13, 2011
I really liked how Linda Seger approached theme. Theme is basically the expression of the big idea of the story, and Linda suggests writers use action or movement verbs to define the theme, such as “exposing” or “discovering.” This practice implies that theme has movement from one state to another. In fact, Linda sees theme as two states in contrast to one another. For example, my new novel, The Yo-Yo Prophet, has a theme of chaos versus control, as my protagonist seeks control over the chaos of his life.
Linda Seger suggests that one way to express theme is through images and image systems. Of course, images can work to visually express a theme. To use my new novel as an example again, when my protagonist seeks to master his yo-yo tricks in front of an audience, he’s actually seeking control over others. (So the yo-yo becomes an image for the theme, and the failure of a yo-yo trick takes on greater significance.) If the image travels through the story in various ways and forms (becoming an image system), it can take on additional meaning.
I’ve examined story structure from the point of view of Syd Field, Robert McKee, John Truby, and Michael Hauge, among others, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that one needs to take the best from each method and find one’s own way. Maybe that’s not much help, but let me try to explain.
Although these story structure experts share many beliefs in common, they also disagree with and contradict one another. For example, Truby states that there is no such thing as a three-act structure, while the others base their methods on it. Absorbing the methods of these story structure experts has led me to the conclusion that there are many ways to approach story structure, and I need to consider my particular story and writing style to determine my way through the maze.
These days, I ask myself a series of questions about a story idea. These questions are based on a conglomeration of their ideas and my own, and they’re continually evolving. I find that once I answer these questions, I have a strong grasp of what I’m about to write and why. I find that it’s an invaluable process.
I’m becoming fond of Truby’s technique of creating a character web to develop my characters. Truby suggests writers consider how characters in a story are interconnected – how they define each other – by comparing the weaknesses, need, desire, value, status, and moral argument of each character. It’s particularly useful to consider each character in relation to the protagonist’s main moral dilemma.
I attended the workshop with fellow kidlit writers Erin Thomas, Lena Coakley, Cheryl Rainfield, Jennifer Gordon, and Urve Tamberg. To read more about the conference, check out these writers’ blog posts:
April 11, 2011
This weekend, I continued my exploration of how the elements of screenwriting apply to writing a novel by attending the Screenwriters Summit Toronto.
I began this journey a few years ago by reading:
- Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (A Step-by-Step Guide from Concept to Finished Script).
- Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. (I also attended his gruelling and insightful three-day Story seminar.)
- John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.
One thing these three writers share – besides a fondness for long book titles – is a keen insight into how structure applies to writing a successful story. I applied many of their insights when writing and revising my latest young-adult novel, The Yo-Yo Prophet, to be published by Orca Books this Fall, and I believe it’s a better book as a result.
And yet the Screenwriters Summit Toronto took this learning even further. Here’s a very quick overview of the speakers and topics:
- Screenwriting consultant Linda Seger talked about deepening a story through theme and creating a more cinematic story through image systems.
- Screenwriting instructor John Truby detailed his seven steps to a great premise and the variations of deep structure.
- Screenwriting guru Syd Field discussed the setup of character and story.
- Screenwriting coach Michael Hauge explained how to turn plot structure from a complicated concept into a simple, powerful tool to apply to story.
Today, my brain seems to be firing all synapses in order to process the varied and sometimes conflicting techniques and opinions presented at the Summit. I’m sure it will take me a while to sort through which insights best speak to my personal writing technique and determine how to apply these insights to my next novel, but I’m certain the process will nudge me further down the path of becoming a master storyteller. A lofty goal, I know, and not one that can be easily measured or even achieved. But at least I’m enjoying the journey.
Note: You can read my follow-up post about the Summit here.
April 7, 2011
I believe writers need to “play” with words – to have fun with them. I use writing exercises to:
- access my intuitive side.
- explore new writing styles and techniques.
- discover new directions for a work-in-progress.
There are so many ways to play with words. You can:
- write from an object (for example, a cannonball in a museum or a colourful box of pastels).
- begin with a sentence (for example, “The noise grew louder when he opened the door”).
- write from an illustration or photo (for example, Steve McCurry’s portraits).
For more ideas about how to play with words, go to my WordPlay page.