STATUS: Slow but steady. Have two contracts to tackle tomorrow.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? PAPERBACK WRITER by The Beatles
(I’m not even kidding! Strange coincidences on what is actually playing when I’m writing up my blog entry.)
So how did it go last night? Well. I think. Somebody who attended might actually want to chime in here.
Here’s what we did:
1. We began the evening with our customary warning. That we are going to be bluntly honest but we will also try and be encouraging and helpful. Also, if anyone decided they didn’t want their piece read, they could opt out at any time. No one took us up on that offer. That always surprises me.
2. Once we did the disclaimer, we jumped right in to reading the pages. We had one of the workshop organizers, Denise, do the reading aloud of the entry. Kate and I followed along with the copy we had. I can’t just be read aloud to. I need to see it on paper or on screen and read along with it. As Denise read, if we would have stopped reading, Kate and I spoke up and said “stop.” Then explained why.
I actually don’t know how many 2-page entries we were able to get to in the 2-hour segment we allotted for the workshop. I think we did around 20. Here’s the general breakdown:
–out of the 20 we read, Kate and I would have asked for sample pages from just 1 of the projects read. That’s actually pretty good! I have done this workshop where I wouldn’t have asked for any. And what was really interesting is that everyone in the room knew it while it was being read. The audience’s attention was caught and engaged. You could tell by the reaction. People leaned forward in their chairs a little while listening. They reacted when it was funny. People just paid closer attention. So the workshop attendees sensed it just as we did. Fascinating. You folks know more than you think you do.
–of the 19 we would have passed on, I’d say that for at least 12 of those, we did not reach the second page before we would have stopped. For some of those 12, we knew by the second paragraph that the project wasn’t going to work for us. Reasons for that? Level of the writing wasn’t where it needed to be yet.
Some interesting things to note.
1. Kate and I had one entry that was read to the second page before we stopped the reader. But when we did say stop, it was at the same time. We both said that something was off about the entry and it was hard to put our finger on the why of it. It wasn’t because the writing was bad or anything like that. It was because we didn’t feel engaged in the story unfolding. Hard to give feedback on such a vague reaction but it’s often true. There is nothing technically wrong with the piece. It’s just not something that makes us read on.
2. Many of the NOs were because the writer started with one of the following:
–starting the story in the wrong place
–opening with a scene that was just too mundane (like a person waking up in the morning)
–action scenes that weren’t going to play a part later in the story. In other words, writers have been told to grab our attention right away but they weren’t given any other guidance on how to effectively do that. Starting with a huge action scene and then on page 2 having the reader realize that it was just a dream is not very effective. Also, the action scene has to be integral to the central conflict of the story. Otherwise, it doesn’t serve a purpose. A great action opening is only going to take you so far if it’s not connected to the plot.
So remember, action with a purpose….
After about 8 entries were read, I stopped the session and took the temperature of the room. How was everyone doing? Had we destroyed any dreams forever because that’s not what we wanted to do. Should we continue?
Everyone wanted us to push on so we did.
We also wanted the attendees to hear some openings that worked, so both Kate and I brought in the opening 2 pages from clients we had signed.
We thought that would be a nice change of pace from the carnage. Grin. Not to mention it might help demonstrate when writing works.
There it is in a nutshell.