Dateline: Houston, Texas at the Double Tree Hotel, the one that gives out cookies

Event: Story Masters!

The brain weary ones

Over 120 of us eager beavers gathered in a ballroom with barely enough outlets to power up all the laptops. There were a few skirmishes, but no bloodletting that I could see. That came when the workshop kicked off with Donald Maass, uber-agent and writing teacher extraordinaire. Next year he’s coming out with a new book, “Writing 21st Century Fiction” we got a preview yesterday. Maass asked the question: “What brings readers into a story, what makes characters more real than people we know in real life? What does that? The answer: Emotions. The feelings we engage in, that connect us to characters that makes a story something of power. We need to open an emotional landscape for them to walk through. We need to write emotionally. We need to open ourselves to the emotions we feel.”

The last sentence is the key: to open ourselves up to the emotions WE feel. We can’t expect our readers to go on a deep, emotional journey, unless we are willing to go there ourselves. Oh darn. So that is what I have been resisting in all these drafts.

And that is exactly what Donald Maass had us do. He walked us through a series of prompts, very specific, pointed questions. He asked us to take a deep breath, close our eyes and then asked:  “What is the feeling that you are most afraid to put on the page?”

Wow, if that doesn’t get your heart going. I found myself in tears thinking about it. He reminded us that we have to do the heavy lifting ourselves; we need to be honest about our own feelings if we are ever going to create characters that our readers will fall in love with because they feel their emotions so deeply.

He followed up with questions like, “What are you afraid people won’t understand about us or will reject us, if you told it to them? What aspect of this feeling is the most fearful or shameful? Or silly? Is it when this feeling overtakes you? When does this feeling occur in your heart and your life? Is it associated with something specific, a time a holiday? An event in your life? Is there a person at whom or from whom this feeling is directed or provoked? Is there for instance, someone that you know, if you had the chance, someone you would kill? What feeling is it that makes you shake, humbles you, brings you up against your weakness and your humanity, possibly your strength? When does it occur? How does it manifest in you? How do you know when you are having this feeling?”

To me, if you can answer even one or two of these questions you are on the road to a much stronger, deeper, more emotional writing. And that is what readers are craving. That is just a small sample of prompts from the first full day of the workshop. Next time, I’ll share some of the tips we learned from James Scott Bell and Christopher Vogler. Now, sleep.

Thank you for stopping by. If you have any questions about the workshop, please feel free to ask, I’ll do the best I can to answer them. Cheers!