Finding the Heart of Your Story
Hey, it's been a while.
I just got back from another fantastic workshop with Patti Lee Gauch at Highlights, one I've been looking forward to all year, and we delved into the personal/close third-person POV. As always, time with Patti workshop really helped me hone in on my voice, and re-introduced me to how powerful and close writing in third person can be. We looked at examples from Elizabeth Strout's OLIVE KITTERIDGE, and Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS, and George Saunder's short story, "Victory Lap," for a nice, varied study of how third-person allows the author to get close to a character, yet also pulse in and out when needed.
No surprise, but voice is KEY to making third person (and everything) sparkle. Use concrete nouns, specifics, and don't be afraid of fragments and character asides.
Naturally, my current WIP is in first person so I couldn't run home and start applying everything to my story...but I feel like I've absorbed so much, that I can apply much of what I learned even in my first-person book.
And, regarding the title of this post: during my personal time with Patti, she said she really wanted me to focus on finding the ecstasy in my stories. Making my writing have a feeling of transcendence.
Heavy stuff, no? It's a lot to think about, especially as I get deeper in revisions on my WIP. But I think I know what she means. Something I've been working on in my works more is having more heart. Honing in on the characters' emotions and letting that guide how they think and act, so that when I reach the climax of the novel, there's a huge emotional payout that leaves the reader thinking about my character, even days after s/he has finished the book. In my WIP, which has the relationship between two sisters at the core of the story, I've been thinking more and more about this heart in every chapter, so that there's a narrative line connected by meaningful emotional hits, and reaches that "ecstasy" Patti wants me to work on finding.
Not sure if I'm there just yet, but I'm glad to be working on a new project. And, on the even brighter side, I got these lovely snaps while at Highlights. Those who know me are aware I almost never make it up in time for sunrise, so I'm pretty pleased with my dawn picture. And I LOVE cows. Mooooo for life.
I also went to the Pacific Coast Children's Writing Workshop in September, which is set along a gorgeous Santa Cruz beach. Had an amazing time studying with the faculty there, making new writer friends, and meeting teen writers! It isn't everyday I get a chance to show my work to teens and get their feedback, so it was so refreshing to hear what they had to say! Note to self: Teens make mistakes, so it's totally cool if YA protags do, too.
Mistakes -- this is also something I've been thinking about, as I consider the heart of my story. I've noticed that with each novel I write, the MC becomes more flawed and more complex. More human. When I was a much younger writer, I couldn't bear for my main character to have any significant flaws. I couldn't bear for them to make mistakes or be anything less than courageous or face choices that had no clear answer. In so many fantasy novels, the hero has to be valiant and strong, but what I got out of PCCWW is that teens are craving more
Heroes who have heart.