Thursday, December 21, 2017

SiWC 2016 Workshop #8 Culture Building is World Building

Culture Building is World Building
Sonali Dev

Beloved books, ones that have never left you, build up the fabric of who you are, where we fall, body and soul, into the character. That’s what makes the story unforgettable.

How do you get your readers to fall into your characters like this?

Audience examples:

Wizard of Oz, the journey, conflict, fantastical element
English Patient, multiple stories going on and the setting where it takes place
A Fine Balace, words were just beautiful, characters were real, ending was enraging

Think about the books you’ve read and what makes them memorable.

What is Culture?

The sum total of ways of living developed by a group of human beings and is passed down from generation to generation.

Here’s the problem: we cannot have genetic memories of all cultures, so our cultural stamp (that we bring wth us) is going to be on our writing.

How you feel about anything, is informed by every conversation and experiences and saw since you were a child and that cannot be researched, it’s a hundred million moments of a life, and that cannot be researched.

#ownvoices movement: stories about a culture, by a person from that culture

Every book has its own unique sense of culture, so that’s what we’re talking about today: Culture OF Story.

World building/setting is often used interchangeably with culture, but:

Place and time are the worldbuilding/setting.

What goes on in that place and time are culture.

Aspects of Culture

1. References

Shared knowledge, recognition of being from the same culture, that you won’t have to explain everything.
Like, you meet someone overseas also for Vancouver, you talk about the lack of rain/weather, coffee, etc, small details that, growing up in Vancouver, you understand. Tidbits of how your shared culture is different from where you currently are. What you make jokes about. What you miss. Local commodities, local delicacies, local celebrities, heroes or tragedies. Media we grew up with, streets or neighbourhoods we grew up in. How people look at you depending where you are.

2. Manners

How we treat each other, like how Canadians are considered ‘friendly/polite’. How elders are treated in the community, how are children expected to behave, how you interact with your neighbours & strangers. What are married relationships like, how much and how to people from various cultures interact, how friends greet each other or say goodbye.

3. Relationships

How is a family defined, what’s the usual age of marriage, is there divorce, what do people compete over (what makes them jealous of each other), how and what are people judged over, how do people interact with their government- > is it a democracy or a dictatorship or is it ruled by the underworld? How do people interact across class/race/age/sex/etc. What are neighbourhoods like, do they live there for generations, or do people move in and out? Dialect/language play deeply into how those of different class/race interact.

4. Legacy and Land

Who owns land, how far back does ownership go, what is the best/worst house, wife, food, salary? Are people proud of the places they live in, who are their ‘royalty’ (even in the slums, who is their royalty?), how far back do the generations go and have they always lived here, where did they come from before (if the culture has a lot of immigration, like North America), what is migration like, who is establishment vs newbie and how do they interact? What was the city like 100 years ago -> agrarian, industrial, etc How they think about land.

5. Celebrations & Mourning

Rites of passage, where and why do communities gather and who organizes this? Who is allowed to go and who is left out? What’s the focus of the celebrations, food, alcohol, music, art, clothes?

6. Beliefs

Not just religion, but things like what is sinful in this culture, to adults and to children? What are the expectations and failures? Depending on class/race/age/etc, are these different? What’s shameful, honourable, worth dying for? What happens after you die? 

World building is geography, climate, it’s the relevance on which culture is formed, and culture informs character:

How characters feel about their world and their place in it.

This is why we can rewrite an old classic and the relevance stays the same, because even if the setting is different, the culture is the same -> the character is looking through the same lens at the same circumstances, so they feel the same. ‘Emma’ and ‘Clueless’, same story, different time/place/character, but the characters feel the same about what’s important.

So, what makes any of this matter? You can write a character you know everything about, but a reader could read it and no care at all…

What keeps you reading?

The conflict.

Why is culture so important to conflict?

Because it’s going to define the conflict, and what the characters do with the conflict, how they react to it.

What does the world expect from the character (identity), and how does the character feel about it, where they end up, where they adjust expectations of who they are and who they are going to be?

A character can either learn to love those expectations or they can figure out what’s missing and discard/change it, that’s the character’s growth arc.

Culture IS context.

Struggle is all about context, so we won’t care about a character struggling if we don’t understand their context/culture.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

SiWC 2016 Workshop #7 Using it all - Writing Sex that uses the Emotional Magnitude of Intimacy

Using It All - Writing Sex That Uses the Emotional Magnitude of Intimacy
Lauren Dane

In the last 8 years, definite rise in the sensuality in books, especially in Romance. Great, but there’s this expectation to write ‘hotter’, and ‘more is more’, which is not actually ‘more’.

Who are your characters, what are they doing, and go from there. A touch can be hotter than a full out sex scene, depending on the characters. You don’t have throw a blow-job onto page 70, there isn’t a schedule or map.

Quality not quantity. The number of sex scenes in a book doesn’t raise the ‘hotness’ level.

Each needs t means something to the book, and to the characters. It’s a real intimate thing, a moment of total vulnerability. A sex scene isn’t about tab A and slot B,  it has to belong there, it has to make sense.

If you have sex in your book, it doesn’t matter what genre it is… if it’s there, WHY is it there?

There’s a whole lot of fluff-fucking in books, so don’t write one.

Why is it there, where it’s at, and what does it do for the overall arc of your story?

It’s about trust, intimacy, vulnerability, revelatory…

Most of your readers have had sex, it’s a fairly common experience. They know what it’s like, they know what it feels to have a touch to the hand or a kiss to the ear. They know how it works, don’t be repetitious or over write, you’ll mess up your pacing.

The story seed is always ‘WHY?’ What are you trying to do with that sex scene? Who are they and how are you farthing the story? Are they fighting? Is it make-up sex? Are they throwing away a past hurt/argument and reconnecting, re-trusting. Expose the characters, who they are to one another.

Remember your voice as a writer.

A big, strong man getting on his knees and kissing a woman’s hand tells you a lot about why they are, and can be sexier that a super erratic scene. (he’s older, she isn’t ready, and this older rough man is being gentle, taking it slow because that’s what she needs -> that’s intimate, that’s sexy. That’s seduction. this is an example form one of Brenda Joyce’s?? series about a suffragette).

So think about the ‘why’, what purpose does the scene need to fulfill, that’s the seed that the scene should grow from. Not jus sex for the purpose of  sex. Has to be crafted for the individual moment of the story.

It has to have a tone, so who are these people, what should they do do, or with one another, what words to use (centre, sex, pussy, cunt, what is the right word for this moment, for these characters, for this subtext. how do they feel about the words they use, and what their partner use? Also silence… can make a really hot sex scene -> example of two partners reconnecting after their child died, needing that physical reconnection), and where in the story arc is this?

If a sex scene isn’t popping, think about whose point of view is the scene in, and look at what words are being used.

Then you need to figure out the practical logistics, the logistics. Where are the hands, etc? Are the lights on/off, is it cold, hot, music, silence, etc. Just like a fight scene, figure out where everything is and where it goes. Also things like smell, is the place clean, think about ambient stimuli, how it might impact the scene.

Switch it up. For example, if there’s a scene with oral, then intercourse, don’t have the same pattern in every scene, but also location/time. Are they worried of being caught? Are they on a timeline? Laughing with someone shows a lot of trust, two partners trying to give each other what they want, but also not taking it too seriously. Masterbation is also good because it’s even more vulnerable.

Can you unpack the emotions to reflect the emotional arc, the moments of transition, invite your reader into the character’s heads.

Also, please remember what body parts do, and what they don’t do. Penises do not go into wombs. Also, think about condoms/etc -> what does this say about the characters?

Times change, but connection doesn’t. Historical vs sci-fi vs fantasy, it’s sort of all the same, the connection has to be the core. You want your readers to connect to your story, you characters, and the characters have to connect to each other.

Shelly Lorenston writes really hilarious paranormal romance with unsuccessful/clumsy sex, but the characters can still connect, you can really do a lot, especially build up the frustration. Also, bad sex can be a fun thing. ‘Faking It’ by Jenny Cruisie is a really good book about this, it made the reader laugh, but really connected the characters to each other as well.

Use other emotions other than happy and sad, use guilt, anger, etc, enemies to lovers, star crossed lovers, class issues, and all kinds of things that create tension, external and internal stressors, who they are, especially in Romance, which is always happily ever after. Draw it out. Make them work for it. Have one woo the other, the seduction can be layered, building and building until they actually have sex.

Guilt is a great emotion to use in a sex scene, you’re not supposed to be with that person, one thing in public but another thing in public. Can be a great way to see how they work past what’s outside that door.

Linda Howard, “After the Night” has the biggest douchebag hero ever, but there’s great chemistry. Carnal Innocence, by Nora Roberts is also good. All those late 90’s books, before the trend to ‘more=hotter’ are great.

You don’t need too many shine buttons, don’t over clutter. Parse it out over the story, don’t cram the scenes full of clutter. Think about small, personal/unique things like, does she wear granny panties, and does he like it? Think about morning sex scenes, don’t they have to pee first? Kinda fun if they have to get up part way through…

Sex scenes can be a punch to the gut, hard-and-fast, make you mad, make you sad, or tease you. 

Some books with well written, evocative sex scenes

Emma Holly “Personal Assets”
Lisa Kleypas “Dreaming of You”
“Night Embrace” about a kookie hippie named Sunshine
Allison Kent “The Sweetest Taboo”

Lauren Dane “Relentless”, “Dirty, Bad, Wrong”, “Drawn Together”, “Cake”

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

SiWC 2016 Workshop #6 Worldbuilding

Daniel Jose Older

‘Story’, Robert Mckee, great book for structure

(this workshop is from a Skillshare class he’s speaking from, Google it)

Narrative fundamentals:

Writing is creating, editing is destroying, know the difference.

Why do we put down a book? We probably weight them all differently, but these are the four major ones.


-> Have to have wants/needs (Hamlet, wants clarity, even if he doesn’t really do anything until the end, there’s a lot going on in the peripheral to keep us as a reader entertained), this is what drives the conflict which leads to crisis. Why is THIS the day that changed or is different from all other days? Where is the crisis (the turning point)

->Have to be empathetic -> we have to connect to them, not put them (sympathy), have humanity 


Context (no context would be a white room situation)


Overwriting comes from insecurity, in ourselves as writers most of all, and in the reader, that they aren’t smart enough so we need to keep explaining.

Think of it as having a great conversation, not having to show off. If you’re too caught up in writing that ‘great’ book, you probably will not write any book. Just tell what happened, tell the story.

*If you’re going to flashback, it has to have all the same elements, be just as urgent, have its own arc/etc, as the present timeline. It has to serve a purpose, push forward a moment in the present tense that we don’t really understand so we can move forward. They have to be a conversation, not separate monologues.

How do you know a neighbourhood is in the process of gentrification?

boarded up houses next to new towers
crap cars next to luxury SUVs
the 7-11 switching over to a luxury organic food store
white lady joggers and street people

Who determines this change?

Banks (finance/mortgages/red-lining)
Homeowners Associations
NotInMyBackYard -> institutional power - criminal justice system
Non profits (because they’re dependent on grants/investors) ‘cleaning up the streets’, sometimes they’re doing the most damage because they think they know better (saviour’s complex)
NY PD will arrest a black man in his own building as a ‘trespasser’, pushing the idea he doesn’t belong

Neighbourhood names change, often pushed by realtors & developers, to appeal to white & wealthy

‘The Foot analysis’ -> analyzing what is kicking the ass of certain neighborhoods, displacement, disregard for POC or marginalized groups.

The gentrification example is one map of power, institutionalized power. Where are the sources of power in a neighbourhood, how to their interact with each other, what are the relationships? Those are all different power maps of the same neighbourhood.

So, what’s the power map of your world? How does power work, how does it play out over the landscape? this gives you opportunity, you don’t want your characters to just float through their world, you want them interacting, sticking, detouring, etc. No straight lines. This is harmony. How all the parts work together. How it works over time, because everything changes… how have the power dynamics change over time, or how have they changed?

Setting is place + time, and when you add power, THAT’S context.

You can keep the power dynamic of something, and set it in a complete different time/place. 

How the politics work, that shapes your world more than almost anything else, the power balances.  You have to be intentional, otherwise you’re just towing the line and continuing to marginalize groups that are already marginalized.

Now, take your character and approach this power dynamic map from your MC’s emotional point of view.

Monday, December 18, 2017

SiWC 2016 Workshop #5 How to Stay in Love with Writing

How to Stay in Love with Writing
Shari Green

What contributes for you, personally, to fall out of love? To make you ask, why am I even bothering?
Negative feedback, not enough time, not being supported, etc.

The number one thing contributing to wanting to quit: rejection after rejection.

Fear of being a one-book-wonder, gambling time/energy and not knowing whether it’ll pan out.

In a poll of 80+ writers, more than 62% had thought seriously about quitting, or had quit for a short period of time (a year, or more than a year).

Four keys for keeping the love alive

1. Hold onto the joy. Remember those days when words are pouring out, when you are having fun, chasing that shines new idea.
-> love lists, write lists of things you love about what you’re writing, what made you want to write it in the first place. Think if you had to rewrite the entire book and could only keep 3 things from the original, what are those three things: setting? a particular kissing scene? something cool you created? These are the beginning of your love list. when you’re stalled, when you think it’s the most terrible thing you’ve every written.
-> magic cookies, figuratively. When you’re in the planning, early writing stage, all those sparkly fun things you are excited to get to, excited to write in the future, what are those? A spoon stealing grandmother, a particular fun setting, etc. Write those magic cookie scenes to pull you forward through the story.
-> secret projects, projects that are just for you, an audience of one. No rules, put all the crazy weirdness you want, have fun, play with words. If it turns into something, awesome, but the goal can’t be publication, it has to be fun/joy -> nurturing your creativity.
-> redefining success & failure. Commercial success is different from creative goals. Are you creating? Success! Are you growing, daring, play? Success! When you define success that way, it redefines failure. Are you NOT creating, daring, playing? Fail!

2. Find your tribe
-> cheerleaders, we need encouragers, people who remind us what we’re doing right
-> truth tellers, who can be both brutally honest and unfailingly kind
-> shoulder-sharers, those who are on the same journey together, who understand, who also go through this rollercoaster

3. Own it…
->This journey is yours, walk the whole journey, don’t be afraid to walk the whole thing, highs and lows
->What are the highs? When the scenes come together, getting your words done in one hour instead of six, the first moment of shiny idea, when your characters surprise you, when the reader laughs where they’re supposed to, acceptance/validation, even if it isn’t a sale.
-> recognize, embrace these highs, and enjoy them, big or small. They’re a big deal, celebrate. Employ them, use them to get you through the low times. Keep an encouragement file.

-> What about the lows? Expect them and accept them. If you’re sending stuff out, you’re going to get rejections. Not that you shouldn’t be hopeful, but know that, statistical speaking, rejections are part of the deal. Jealousy is normal, whether about a stranger’s success, or writers close to you. “Good news blues” When there’s good news everywhere, it makes us feel our own lack of good news even stronger. Other people are going through the same things. Release them. Let them go. Take the time to wallow, mourn, put an expired date on your misery and move on. It’s normal, but don’t get stuck there. There will be more highs and lows in the future.

4. Buckle Up, protect/arm yourself.
-> Expectations, managing them. There is no ‘should’ of when accomplishments should happen. There’s no set timeline, it won’t match up to anyone else’s.
-> Firewalls, things we consciously do to protect ourselves, so what are our triggers? What are the tough issues you struggle with and use the other tools to recognize these triggers early on and avoid them or step back. Take time off. If you get to a point where this isn’t helping, that you can’t muster the will to write, is this more? Watch out for your mental health if you can’t pull yourself out.
->Roadblocks, things that weren’t in the manual when we signed up for this writing life: self-doubt/imposter syndrome -> you have to believe your stories matter. Self judgement, fear of failure, we don’t finish things because a little voice whispers that it is’t good enough -> let go of perfectionist. Mantra: create something, send it out into the world, create something else. Once it’s sent out, it’s out of your hands. Focus on what you can control. When you run out of gas, out of creativity, take a break and fill the well, go to a museum, go for a walk, read a good book, then come back to writing. Put it into perspective, there’s more to life than the writing, worse things than a rejection letter.

Now, fan the flame…

Think back on what we talked about, and what are you going to take home with you? What are you going to do differently?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

SiWC 2016 Workshop #4 The Story You're Not Telling

The Story You’re Not Telling
Donald Maass

“The Emotional Craft of Fiction” -> emotional effect that fiction has on us as readers, and not look at it as a happy accident, but as a craft -> why and how it happens so we can understand the techniques and use them.

Got the idea watching the Super Bowl and 30 second commercials impacting more emotionally than 300 page novels.

Mostly when we speak of emotional part of fiction, we’re talking about the characters and what they feel -> as if what characters feel, the reader will also feel. The conversation ends with ‘show not tell’, but there’s so much more than that.

Readers do not feel anything that characters feel, particularly if you are writing primary emotions, fear, joy, etc. Asking the reader to feel something overwhelming in an instant, or emotions we would normally avoid. Readers turn away from overwhelming emotions. A playwriting principle is, if you want your audience to cry, don’t have an actor cry, because the audience will clamp up. You want to catch your readers by surprise, explore an emotional corner is more effective than laying out the primary emotion they are feeling -> those primary emotions we feel in a flash, they are not things we sit and analyze because they are so fast/instinctive, so if you focus on those main emotions, they can read as overwritten/overdramatic/etc

If a moment is small, insignificant, blowing it up in a story makes the reader stop and say, woah… focus on it, give it more words. Controversially, a big twist/turn, huge impact are moments to pull back, underplay because your reader doesn’t need you to analyze, focus in.

The hidden journey of the characters, but also the emotional journey you create for your readers -> creating this opportunity. We are stimulated emotionally by things happening on the page, we then evaluate it and compare/contrast to our own emotions, would we do that, feel that? Then we assign that personal experience to the character in the story. The reader thinks they’re feeling a character’s experience, but they’re actually having their own experience.

So, how to create that opportunity?

Create an emotional landscape for the reader to walk -> the interiority of characters, which we often think of as dangerous because internal/emotian is not story/plot, so we try to minimize it. But the story we’re not telling is the emotional journey, what the character is experiencing emotionally, how they are changing scene by scene, growing and evolving. That’s where the emotional 

The plot makes us curious, but that’s only half the novel.

So, we want to trigger moments for the reader to bring their own emotions into it?

How do we create a hook, a beginning that makes us wonder what is going to happen and turn the page to see -> but we really also have to emotionally engage the reader. 

The Beginning

->How the character is feeling about what’s going on when the story opens.

*Write down one thing that’s warm, human, natural about your character.

*Even if the setting is exotic (fantasy, historical, chaotic, crazy), find something in the opening moment of the story that your character cares about right now.

We talk about what drives the characters, their motives, what they need, but in our day to day lives, do we think about our grand goals every 15 minutes? No, we’re thinking about the next cup of coffee. We’re thinking about something immediate. Humans think and feel and focus on what’s in front of them right now.

*write down something your character is passionate about right now.

Let’s not think about what’s happening externally to your character, but what’s happening internally for your character.

*write down something your character this is difficult, puzzling, ironic, strange, or anything that makes your protagonist to wonder at this moment.

*write down how does your protagonist know and feel, right at this moment, are changing and will not change back. This is a moment of permanent transition. How is that known by your protagonist, what signs can they see, and how do they feel about it? How are they feeling challenged and how do they feel about how they are different -> not just how they are different or what is different.

When we hook our readers with what’s intriguing and emotional, we will carry them through several pages. The emotional hooks just as much, if not more, as the plot hook.

You need to know these aspects first, as a writer, you have to know your character in that moment.

With these things you’ve written down, is there a moment you can write on the first page or 2, can we understand/show that humanity? In life we get a lifetime to do that, in fiction we get a couple paragraphs.

Humanity is what we connect to, relate to.

If you feel this is good to put on your first page or two, do it. We have to open up the interior live of the character.

The Midpoint/turning point

In plot, it’s the moment when things are hopeless, when they’re at their worst. When your character has their dark moment, and often this is where writers talk about it when the plot has turned against the character.

Also considered the mirror moment, when the character looks at themselves and asks who they are and who they have become?

*Write down what it is about your protagonist that they know can no longer be true, what is now lost and gone, what understanding of self, what foundational believe of themselves has been shattered, what is it that your protagonist can no longer be? 

*What can they no longer do?

*What now must your protagonist become, that is new, but also uncomfortable, unfamiliar, frightening, the opposite of who they are, or why they think they are? A person they don’t want to be? (suck it up, toughen up, become vulnerable) A moment where they are teetering between two selves, and it’s not easy.

*What does your protagonist leave behind?

*What can your protagonist now see that they couldn’t see before, about the world, plot, other people, goal & place ahead? How does their goal look different to your protagonist now?

*In what new way is your protagonist going to move forward, in a way they’ve never done before?

*Does this moment feel good, or does it feel bad? Right or wrong to feel this way? It empowering or humbling, or is it the same thing? In what way does your protagonist feel thoroughly dead, or utterly and completely alive, and how? What is is like to feel this feeling? Heavy or light? Use analogy. Sometimes you can feel uplifted, but also heavy -> like you’re unworthy of it.

Do you have another paragraph or two now to add to that moment? Do it. Capture that moment, that very unique way your character experiences that and the reader will follow and bring their own emotional experience to that moment.

Scenes and Building Blocks of Novels

Many different kinds, literary vs commercial, scene vs postcard, etc Lots of different purposes in scenes.

Pick a scene from the middle of your manuscript, choose a relatively inactive scene, one in the business of moving things along -> a flat scene (emotionally).

*As your protagonist goes into this moment, write down what they want to do, accomplish, avoid -> their goal going into this scene. What they they want and need to do right now?

*What is your protagonist’s emotional goal? What do they want to feel in the next few moments? What emotion are they seeking? How does your character want to come out of this scene (feeling)?

*Now, invent/add something new to this scene that will bring your protagonist one step closer to that goal OR one step further away? Either reward or punish them.

*How your character wants to feel, can you add something that bring them closer or farther away form that point? Is there another character who can help or hinder? Sometimes it can be said, “I know how you feel right now”, someone calling out the truth (this can be good or bad -> so, a character calling out the protagonist’s good/lofty emotional goal, or the ugly ones).

*Is your character afraid of what they want to feel, their emotional goal, and why is it important to seek this emotional state?

Think of political statements, they are emotional goals.

What’s your emotional goal this weekend? What’s your emotional goal this morning?

*What is the moment in your scene when your protagonist becomes aware that they are going to get their emotional goal, or not get it. Elation/affirmation or disappointment. Use analogy. What kind of feeling is this? What is the one thing your character will see/hear/say that will show us how they feel?

This is the emotional, the inner turning point of the scene/story. Not being able to go back to their previous way of feeling, or this is something beyond what they could expect to feel.

Have we captured more of the emotional movement of this character, as they go through a moment of plot?

Once a character has faced themselves, we want to know what happens after that… what to do, how to behave, who to be? A moment of transformation is one of the things we read fiction for.

Your Story in General

What you want them to feel through the journey of your novel, what virtue do you want them to be excited by? Self-control? Courage? Perseverance, understanding, respect? Do you want them to feel generous, open of heart, forgiving, or inspire them to serve/sacrifice? Cause readers to think about their own integrity or humility? Readiness or wisdom? What do you want readers to value because they have read your book?

Whatever value you want your ready to be inspired by, pick a character in your story who represents the opposite and has good, solid reasons, who is justified, successful, and right to be the opposite.

Why suggest this?

Because working on the opposite, justifying the opposite is going to move your reader in the direction you want them to go.

One of the things so interesting, and so appalling about this USA election, has been that it’s so powerfully stimulated conversations, revelations, declarations of how we should be instead.

There’s a piece in the NY Times how Trump boasting about his sexual predation has started a mass conversations of women talking to men about their own personal experiences, all the small indignities and harassment they deal with on a daily basis, the constant low-level daily sexual harassment, and a lot of men don’t know about this, and it’s been an appalling surprise. All of this is happening because of Trump’s appalling behaviour.

Provoke your reader in this way to examine themselves, to ask themselves what kind of person they are, and how they can/should be different. What better way, what virtue do you want your readers to embody?

This is the emotional journey you want to prompt in your reader. Pack your story with as much as you can, don’t hold anything back for the next story, the sequel if you will.

Consumers of entertainment want an experience, they want to trust there’s competence (a protagonist work through a situation and get to a point of resolution), they want their values reaffirmed -> BUT, the values readers think they want are not necessary the ones they NEED.