Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jack Whyte Saves My Story

 Hands up anyone who has been to Surrey!

Me neither.  Until last weekend when I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, which many consider the finest writers’ conference on the continent.  The emphasis is on the how to: how to write, how to get published, how to improve one’s craft. 
It’s a different focus from a writers’ festival with its readings and panels about the lit scene.
My first workshop had its amusing aspects.  The presenter was Jack Whyte, popular author of a nine-book cycle on the Arthurian legend and a trilogy on the Knights Templar. Three weeks before the conference, I got an e mail asking me to send in three pages of my worst writing.  The worst! Jack would read these at the workshop and critique.
I thought about this.  I have lots of bad writing on hand but I was sure that many of the participants would send in their best, garner the praise and everyone would think, “Wow, and that was your worst?”

 But I decided to play along and try to learn something. So I picked a few pages from a short story called The Wallflower, a story hated by my writing group and slammed by the local Blue Pencil critique service run by NOWW.  A flop, in other words.
Jack Whyte and blogger Joan
 Sure enough, when Jack handed out the package of the class’ worst, mine was on top. He read the first page aloud, trying hard to keep the boredom from his voice. He then asked for feedback and most said the story did not grab them. It lacked drama. It inundated the reader with too much stuff not connected to the protagonist’s dilemma. The emotion was muted, in fact muted to the point of invisibility.

 Jack took his turn. He zeroed in on the dialogue. “Not realistic,” he said. He has a method he uses to evaluate his own dialogue. He records it. After a week or two, he listens and decides if it sounds right for the situation.

 My dialogue did not.

He also did not like the way I repeated the name of the main character a few times on the first page. He believes once the character is mentioned by name at the beginning of the story, the person should thereafter be referred to as “he” or “she.” This contradicts the advice of some in my writing group who want the character’s name mentioned often.  And this points out a typical writing dilemma: one’s person’s rule is another person’s pet peeve. 

Did some of the participants send in their best writing? Of course.  Do I care? Nah.  They learned nothing but I learned a lot. In my spare time at the conference, I worked on the story, cutting and pasting and pointing up the heroine’s dilemma while sharpening the dialogue.  Now I think I have a story I can sell. 

 Thanks Jack.

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