Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BreadLoaf 2010: The Upper Crust

At long last, a list of the lessons I found most useful at The Bread Load Writers' Conference this year. I will credit specific instructors whenever I can (Margot Livesey figures prominently since she was my workshop leader. Also because she's a fantastic teacher and writer).

1. Be aware of how you write on the computer. Unlike when you flip open a notebook, when you open a Word document, you always find yourself at the very beginning. You may therefore be more likely to rewrite the beginning over and over again, when what you should really do is move the story forward and make revisions later. (Margot Livesey)

--This advice was a big wake up call for me. I'm guilty of this all the time and constantly rewriting your opening does not equal a fantastic opening necessarily (I know this from experience).

2. When receiving feedback from a reader, listen for the problem, not the suggested solution. Sometimes the reader is pointing you to a problem but isn't expressing it accurately. (Margot Livesey)

--Again, I found this so incredibly useful. Many times I've had a reader say, "This is just a little nitpicky comment, but..." I always try to listen for what the underlying problem might be. Oh, they don't understand this exchange between characters because I didn't successfully get across the main character's distress over recent events in the previous scene like I thought I had.

3. When you revise, ask yourself WHY you are telling the story at this TIME.

--This sounds like such simple, obvious advice but it's so easy to forget. As the writer, you know why you're telling the story and why you care about it: because you made it up. It's been birthed by your imagination and doesn't require validation anymore than a parent needs to explain why they love their newborn baby. However, as you revise you must ask yourself these questions because a reader won't instantly love your novel like you do.

4. The First Sentence:

It's very effective for an opening sentence to include some mention of a human being.

Don't make it too clever--it's distracting and makes the reader think about the person who crafted the sentence rather than the person the sentence is about.

(gleaned from a first sentence workshop by Lori Ostlund. By the way, her writing is insightful and hilarious. I highly recommend her story collection The Bigness of the World.)



5. The basic tools for writing an effective violent/action scene and a romantic/sexual scene are the same. (Matt Bondurant)

--I know this isn't advice exactly, but I think it's worth mentioning as a way to consider both types of scenes. The strategies you may automatically apply to one type of scene can be used to great effect on the other and vice versa.


All right, now it's time for me to apply all of this wonderful advice and get back to my own revisions. If I think of more lessons from Bread Loaf that I want to share, I'll post them soon!

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