Tag Archives: Brenda Bensch

Friends and Writing Workshops

I woke up early this morning worrying about my dear friend Debbie Nance. I think about her a lot lately. She is an amazing woman and I hate she is so sick.

This is the last day of a writing workshop with Steve Fraser. It’s been going so well.

Steve is smart, funny and loves terrific writing.

 

My dear  friends, Brenda and Cheryl, have been sending me things to post. However, I’ve not done a great job what with school and, well, I haven’t posted in days.

So, here are a few things they’ve had to say:

Brenda:
Do you want to be a writer? Or do you want to be a reader? I’m one of those who wants to be both. Unfortunately, if something has to “go” in my daily schedule, it is too often the reading! I need to buck up my resolve in this regard, so listen to these knowledgeable people:
“The main suggestion from me is READ. It is impossible for a writer to be able to write honestly and eloquently without having at one time or another acquainted himself with such writers as Sir Thomas Browne.” ~ William Styron
“Read as may of the great books as you can before the age of 22.” ~ James Michener (wish I’d seen THAT sooner ! ! !)
“Read, read, read. Read everything —trash, classics, gook and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” ~ William Faulkner
“If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write.” Epictetus
Brenda:
Rachel Carson is credited with having said (or, more probably, written) “The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him.” I’m hoping Boudica, my main character, or at least Veleda, my narrator, will be telling me a good deal in the next several weeks and months, as I work on an historical novel which has been on the back burner for a number of years.
I did hours and hours of research “back in the day” over a stretch of possibly two or three years. I even wrote an (absolutely TERRIBLE) screen play on this story. It was so bad, I’m afraid that’s what has made me let it lie dormant ever since. (I will NEVER write another screen play!)

But now, in 2016, it’s whispering to me again. Urgently enough to persuade me to put other, smaller projects on hold for a change, and deal with the whispers.
Oh, I still have to fix the occasional meal, spend time with my husband, take care of my daughter, try to reach my grandson who may be in Afghanistan or Iraq by now, water my houseplants, do the laundry. 
Meanwhile, there are the whispers. Whispers from Boudica’s severed head, and from her daughter, Veleda, who carries her mother’s story wherever she goes. And now, it seems, they have entrusted it to me. It’s only been almost two-thousand years. I’m listening.
I’m listening.
And what – or who – is whispering, urgently, to you? 
Cheryl:
I’m reading a book that’s been on my “to be read” list for a long time. It’s a modern classic by a bestselling author. But so far, it’s somewhat lackluster.

I understand why people like it. It has great worldbuilding and pretty cool magic. But I’m not connecting to the characters. I know which ones I’m supposed to like and which ones I’m supposed to boo. But right now, they could all die in a fiery crash and I’d shrug my shoulders and move on.
What is it that connects us to characters? Similar life circumstances, maybe. Similar reactions or outlooks on life, perhaps. But for me, I need a degree of vulnerability. I need to feel that they are scared sometimes, like me. I need to know there is insecurity. I need to know they’re human.
What is it that makes you connect with a character?

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Three Things Friday

Carol:

We’re just gonna have to change TTT until I’m not teaching so early Thursday mornings.

I’m reading a book and loving it. It’s called The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith. Smith won a 2015 Printz Honor for  Grasshopper Jungle.
Have you read either book? What do you think?

 

Brenda:

Have you submitted work to a contest, or a publisher, or an agent lately? How about to a critique group? Or just to a friend to get a “first impression” of your work?
It’s tough, no matter whether your “critic” knows what he or she is doing or not. If he/she does know what to do, what to recommend, did you really want to know what someone thought of it? Or did you just want a pat on the back.
I think most people truly involved with writing may know what they’re saying. They may not always know how hurtful it can be. On the other hand, if you gave the materials up willingly, hopefully, you need to take their ideas into consideration.
Here are two people with writing ability and knowledge who have interesting takes on the process:
“Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Not just what it is about your work the critics don’t like — then cultivate it. That’s the part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.” ~ Jean Cocteau
“I would recommend the cultivation of extreme indifference to both praise and blame because praise will lead you to vanity, and blame will lead you to self-pity, and both are bad for writers.” John Berryman
Cheryl:
This year I was  excited to be able to work as a judge for book awards again. As you might imagine, one of the most difficult aspects is ranking the books you read yesterday to the ones you read six months ago.
Therefore, I present Cheryl’s Rubric of Amazingness! I have ten sections, and for each section I award up to ten points. It’s not a perfect system (for instance, this year I had a three-way tie at 94) but it works for me.
Quality of storyline
-Is there a strong arc? Is there an opening, a point of no return, etc, etc.?
-Is the climax effective? Is it in the correct place?
-Is the first page strong? Does the story start in the correct place?
-is the ending strong? Is the story problem resolved? Is it cut off early to force room for a sequel?
Character arc
-does the character change and grow?
-is the character’s motivation known?
-is the character likeable?
-is the character relatable?
Character voice
-is it unique?
-is it recognizable?
-is it realistic?
Secondary characters
-are they fleshed out?
-do they have their own arcs?
-are they cliche?
Dialogue
-is it realistic?
-is it appropriate to the characters?
-is there some that should have been eliminated? (Hellos, goodbyes, etc.)
Storytelling (suspense)
-is the story original?
-do I want to keep reading?
-do I feel the way the author intended for me to feel?
Pacing
-does it flow smoothly?
-does the arc rise organically or is it forced?
-is there enough/too much time spent in each part of the storyline?
Genre Specific Questions:
(This example is for fantasy, romance or coming-of-age novels would have different questions)
-Originality of world and magic
-Is there a cost to magic?
-Is the description woven in, or is it info dumped?
Quality of writing

-are there incorrect dialogue tags?
-are there adverbs where there should be stronger verbs?
-do the metaphors work? Are they awkward or forced? Are they appropriate for the character?
-are the descriptions strong? Are they overly loquacious? Is there a strong sense of place?
-is the setting strong? Is there a “feel” for the area? Is the town/country unique and defined?
Grammar and editing
-purple prose
-poor grammar/spelling
-run-on sentences
-variation of sentence length, musicality of prose
-sentences that all start the same way
-overuse of phrases
-recycled images
NOTE FROM CAROL–So you could use this as you write your own books.

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Three Thing Thursday

Cheryl:

 

I just finished THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee. What an absolutely incredible novel. 

It is, above all things, profound. As a reader, I was drawn in to the protagonist’s decision making process, trying to will him into making the choices I would make. Then I was forced to face judgment on my own decisions. It gave me a horrifying glimpse inside my own mind.
After all, am I good or am I clever?
The novel isn’t filled with flowery phrases or expansive vocabulary. It’s clear, concise, and to the point. The characters are not good or evil, simply human.
As I closed the book, all I could think was, “I wish I could write like that. I wish I could make people feel things like that. I wish I could create characters that come to life.”
I don’t know if I ever will be able to. But I feel a renewed determination to try.
Carol:
Mark your calendar!
Steve Fraser (Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency) is coming to town!
Hear his speech at BYU on February 24, 2016. It will be at 6:30 pm.
Room # to come.
Also, only a few morning spots left at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. (www.wifyr.com)
We have lots of classes to choose from in the afternoons and we’re excited about our faculty this year, like the AMAZING Trent Reedy.
Some of you may have heard him when he came to WIFYR a few years back. He was our keynote.
He and I were in the same graduating class at Vermont College and I love him. He’s smart, passionate, and he and I had a session or two of slow saunters around campus, talking books.
Brenda:
I’ll call this one “Sisyphus and His Rock”:
I just read a heart-breaking story about a college fellow who decided, finally, to share his novel with a trusted friend and able writing mentor. The student gave him a beautiful, thick, leather binder with tabs for each of many chapters. He sat on the student’s bed and read the first chapter, getting more and more excited, because — though long (34 pages) — it was good: opened well; had great visuals; pacing and language were both accessible. And the reader LOVED the characters.  Excited, he turned, finally, to chapter 2.
Twenty pages of blank paper.  Ditto for the other 18 tabbed sections.
The mentor said he thought this fellow “had been working on his story for rather a long time.” “Eleven years this February,” he answered.
And the entire time was spent writing, revising, rewriting the first chapter until it was “perfect.”  The mentor compared the work to Sisyphus’ trying to push a rock up the mountain only to have it tumble down again,  where he would start over.
I’m neither that good, nor that bad, I suppose: but I’m embarrassed to say I have 13 novels in various stages of “not-done.” Some are quite long. Some, not much more than a chapter or the barest essentials of an MC or two, and a couple of incidents to be fleshed out. I’m not like that college kid: I stop when something else catches my eye (or interest). . . “squirrel!” . . . And I may not get back to “it” (which ever “it” it may be) for months and months. Or even years.
How many “ROCKS” do YOU have? Are our rocks doomed to bury us, bring us down? Fortunately, my most complicated of stories (YEARS old by now, and heavily researched) has finally caught my interest again, and I’m trying to capitalize on the excitement which has re-entered my heart in its behalf.
I’ll go to my “next biggest” rock, as soon as I get through pushing this one to the peak. And I’m wearin’ my runnin’ shoes.

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Three Things Thursday on Saturday

I have to be to school early on Thursdays, and I try to remember to post on time, but I always forget. 😦

So here we go. A post on Saturday.

 

Carol:

The gig at the Provo Library last night was a blast.

Christian McKay Heidicker did a terrific job AND got a tattoo.

There was food.

Prizes.

Chatting.

And writing prompts.

Make sure to mark your calendar for next year.

 

 

Brenda:

Re-reading a blog from Randy Ingermanson (“the Snowflake guy”) I came across his thoughts on breaking Big Projects into small Chunks.  I think we all do this — nevertheless, it’s a good reminder. We all feel pressured by time, or the lack thereof, for our writing.  Randy was suggesting taking YOUR OWN longest, PRODUCTIVE chunk of time.  Let’s say, you think you can write for an hour without losing momentum.  Set a timer for 50 minutes. Ban looking at Facebook, or emails, or answering phones, or whatever your daily interruptions are.  When the 50 minutes is up, STOP!  Take 10 minutes to walk around, get a drink, do anything BUT go back to the writing.  Feeling somewhat refreshed?  Good.
If you get one page done, swell.  A whole scene?  Even better.  A chapter?  WOW ! ! !
If you found you began to flag a bit before the timer went off, use even smaller chunks: 40 minutes of intensive work and a 7 minute break?  That works.  30 intense minutes and a 5 minute break?  That’s OK too.  What can YOU do in a finite amount of time?  What is your OPTIMUM amount of time at such an intense level?  It will be different for everyone.  And that’s good, as well.  The problem is to find out what works for YOU, and under what circumstances. And part of the process is letting go when the timer goes off.
If one hour is all you can spend on the writing and you’ve made it productive, you’re done for the day.  If you can do a second hour, with the same kind of intensity, go for it.  The point here is to restrict that chunk of time to intense, concentrated writing.  And to take the break, so you’ll feel renewed, revitalized, ready to move to the next “chunk” of your day, whether that’s throwing in a load of laundry, or sitting back down to the computer.
Cheryl:
I read a book this week. A good book. But I’ve been depressed ever since, because it could have been a GREAT book. 

It wasn’t the writing, or the pacing, or the characters. All of that was very well done. The problem was that the strongest aspect of the book was the backstory.
By the time the book started, the most important character development had already happened. It felt like starting the Harry Potter series with book 5. If we didn’t already love him, we’d never have put up with what a miserable little pill he was then.
That’s how this book was. The backstory was so well done that I could see what the first chapter would contain, what the climax would be, how the story would resolve. It was beautiful. Granted, it would have been a character-driven novel versus the plot-driven, action-packed summer blockbuster that it was, but it would have been so worth it.
Check your novel. Does it start in the right place?
Then check it again. Are you sure??

 

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