Thursday, July 26, 2012

Organized and Energized: Digging out the Nuggets from the Great Lakes Getaway

Revived and Re-writing

I'm still panning gold nuggets out of the river of information I mined at last weekend's Great Lakes Getaway, a retreat sponsored by the Minnesota N.I.C.E branch of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Hobnobbing with other fiction writers and sitting under the tutelage of well known suspense author Colleen Coble is in some senses overwhelming, and in others the most extreme of relaxations. But now I've had a few days to evaluate and organize my thoughts. I am energized on several levels. Here are some of the reasons why.

I was reminded of the reasons why my voice is unique, why I should protect it, and how.

I have my own set of passions, goals, life experiences, strengths, weaknesses, strategies, instincts, and sources of creative energy. I use all of these and more to infuse my writing style, so I shouldn't try to copy someone else's or let their voices get inside my head. I should embrace my voice and develop it into consistency.

I garnered some pointers in tackling big editing projects.

I enjoy editing for the most part, but that's not to say they aren't intimidating at times, especially under a looming deadline. Colleen shared practical advice from "sleeping on it" to tackling plot issues by using 3x5 cards to rearrange scenes or add story lines. She also suggested printing out the edit letter (that letter than comes from your editor with all the suggested changes) and systematically highlighting sections to start with.

I felt the push to find a critique partner.

That's someone I've been without for a while, but I am reminded there's nothing more necessary to a writer as a first line of defense when we've finished a manuscript and begun the polishing stage. In my writing life, I've probably learned the most and the best from those experiences of letting down the defenses, stepping away from the project, and absorbing the suggestions of someone with a fresh pair of eyes.

I recieved reams of ideas for creating larger than life characters able to snag their way into a readers' hearts.

I love characterization exercises, and now I have more! Have you ever considered such character questions as, What trauman happened to her during adolescence? What should she fear but doesn't? What makes her laugh out loud? What smell does she associate with her childhood and why? This is just a sampling. Asking the most inane questions of our characters can bring out some of the most interesting story details. For instance, when asking how my character sleeps, I realized she sleeps on her side, against a rock, fully clothed, with a knife tucked into her sash -- of course!

I brainstormed my way out of a WIP dilemma and connected to new friends.

We gathered in small groups to present our current WIP dilemmas -- airing out where we were stuck with character or plot. Everybody had a question on their hearts. But in our small groups we found a safe place to toss our stories out there and get feedback. Boy, did the ideas flow! There was a lot of "what if they... Could she maybe... How about if he..." ideas popping like buttered corn in the microwave. Out of the pile of it, I really found some workable solutions -- not to mention some connections with other writers who I can now call friends!

I found affirmation that sometimes we have to step out of the story and live real life.

We writers are living all the time in our character's world. We can't go camping without picturing a murder in the forest, or go shopping without overhearing conversations we want to write down. But sometimes we just have to allow ourselves the freedom of living real lives -- the ones God gave us.

On the flip side of that, I was reminded that the BEST fiction comes from the heart. It's the pouring out through our characters and their lives the experiences that will reach into the hearts of real people. Yet, we ought not be focusing on agenda-driven fiction. Agendas don't change hearts, God does. So we need to always ask, "God, what lesson do you have for me in this story?" Only then can we ask, "How and what do you want me to show others?"

Of course, these were just a few of the nuggets I retrieved while I talked and brainstormed and took some time to gaze out at Lake Superior. And now I have to get back to my WIP, while all this energy is stirring like a cauldron inside me.

Write on!

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