Tonight I’m starting a course all about “What Women Want”. Now, before you get too excited, it’s not a dating course and I’ve not decided to switch my romantic preferences. It’s a writing course all about Women’s Fiction, run by the amazing Dianne Blacklock through the NSW Writers’ Centre. A course all about Women’s Fiction – my idea of happy a place, I’m thinking.
Those of you who’ve been following me for while will know that some time back I became a bit of a ‘course convert’, so I’m quite excited to be embarking on this program of study for the next six weeks.
Why this course and why now? Well, as some of you know, I’ve come heartbreakingly close a few times now (heart-break-ing-ly close) to getting that elusive “yes”, but I’m still waiting to hear it. There must be a reason I’m getting so close but not over the line, so I figure maybe this course can help me figure out what’s missing from my writing; what that mysterious element is that will take me from “I came very close” (exact words of one rejection from an uber agent) to “Yes, I want you”.
All the writing courses I’ve done so far have taught me something, and often not what I was expecting to learn from them. But each time I’ve been left with some little nugget of advice, or some slight shift in the way I approach my writing that I believe has help me grow. Some of the things I’ve taken away from courses that have surprised me, either because I was ignorant beforehand or because it was a new way to look at things are:
- Your “central event” may not be what you think it is. (Kate Forsyth – Plotting and Planning). This was an interesting lesson to learn, because, surely as the creator of my work I know what my central event is, right? I wrote it, I designed it that way. I know my central event. Nope. When Kate made us take a closer look at our own work and really look at it with a questioning mind, she was right! What I thought was my central event for Cupcakes, actually wasn’t. It was a different event entirely. Now that makes one look at one’s own work quite differently.
- Different characters will notice different things about a place. (Felicity Castagna – Writing a Sense of Place). This gave me a whole new way to look at my physical descriptions of places in Cupcakes, making me look at a scene through their eyes instead of mine – they would notice different things to what I would notice. And, looking at things differently depending on whose point of view (POV) I was writing from. There are multiple POVs in Cupcakes and the way Alice sees her café (with fresh young eyes, nervous, excited, a place that might offer her hope) is most definitely different to the way Hattie does (old, tired eyes looking at an old friend that held so much hope, but also so much sadness) and this lead me to one of my favourite scenes in the whole story.
- When making up a place, it’s even more important to make it unique. (Felicity Castagna – Writing a Sense of Place). When I first heard this, I assumed she was talking about Fantasy and the world building needed in such novels, but she meant no matter what type of place you’re making up. Even my little Aussie country towns. Why? They’re made up. No one knows what they’re supposed be like. And that’s the very reason why. Because if I used existing country towns, then people will ‘fill in’ the blanks with their own knowledge (assumed or learned) of that place and what makes it special, what it looks like, feels like, what the people are like. When making up my own little country towns, I have to be so clear about what makes them special, what will make my readers want to go to town I’ve created if they could, what will make them feel all the feels they’re supposed to without any prior knowledge, what will make them remember it.
- A reader will be bored well before you are. Before editing, read your manuscript as a reader, no pen in hand. (Bernadette Foley – What Publishers Want). This was one of those light bulb moments. I always thought that, given I was reading the thing again and again, if I wasn’t bored by read-through number 99, then surely my readers wouldn’t be bored the first time through. WRONG! Of course I’m not bored. I love the bloomin’ thing; I’ve sweated it, bled it, given it life. Readers don’t have the same emotional connection to your book, your characters, your places. They will get bored and they will give up. Unless you give them a reason not to.
- Everything that happens to your characters has to happen as a natural extension of their character arc. (Toni Jordan – Refining the Manuscript). There are no accidents. Even an accident can’t be an “accident”; it has to be something that is part of the trajectory the character was always on. This was a biggy for me. BIGGY. This doesn’t mean the reader can predict what’s going to happen, but more that you as the author know what choices your characters are likely to make in the situations you’ve put them in that might lead to those “accidents”. This meant a major rewrite for how one of my characters behaved very early on in Cupcakes that lead him to how his journey ends. (I’m deliberately not giving away details here because you’re all going to rush out and buy Cupcakes if when it gets published, and I don’t want to spoil it for you).
- Write, figure out what book you’ve written, then write your book. (Toni Jordan – Refining the Manuscript). Read that again. It’s a gem. Especially as a pantser.
So, I’m going into this course mind completely open, hopeful that I’ll come away with a small something, lots of small somethings, that will help me improve just that little bit more and take me one step closer to realising this tantalisingly close dream.What about you? Whether for writing or in any other area, have you ever done a course where you’ve learned something unexpected? Let me know in the comments below.