Notes from the 2008 LDStorymakers Conference
Workshop: Improve Your Writing
Presenter: Tim Travaglini, Sr Editor @ Putnam, Workshop on Saturday
Submitted by: gwynnwynn
Mr. Travaglini talked about several ways we can improve our writing. He said they were not necessarily in order of importance, and some were more important than others but he didn’t always indicate which were the more important ones. Mr. Travaglini had a very relaxed presentation style and I couldn’t always tell when he was changing topics. I wish I had better organized notes, but I was writing as fast as I could and I know I missed a few things.
Voice is the most important and most difficult to fix. This is where a huge component of natural talent comes in, although it can be learned.
Know your character intimately—what they had for breakfast, their dog’s name, their childhood, etc. Write a bio for your character, with description and everything. Ask yourself: Why do I love them? Are my characters appealing to me?
Narrative tension is tied into conflict. It motivates the reader to care about what’s going on. Bring plot in as early as you can. Weaknesses in this area include conflict that lacks weight or significance, that is trivial or misleading, scenes that don’t move forward, tangents or extra threads, taking too much time in the wrong place.
Conflict and resolution—you have to have something for your protagonist to overcome. There is no plot if there is no conflict; no ending if there is no resolution. When writing for children, your protagonist needs to resolve the conflict for themselves; cannot be resolved by parent or circumstances.
Sympathetic Protagonist—voice gives you a lot. If your reader falls in love with the character, you will have instant sympathy. Sympathy can also be created by the story, what’s happening. Anti-heroes are flawed characters and the story must be about their redemption. You also need to humanize your antagonist.
Secondary characters—you have to know them as well as your protagonist. You need to know whoever walks onto your stage as intimately as you do your protagonist.
Fresh take. There are no new stories. There are only 7 basic narrative structures in human storytelling but you need to make it stand out in some way. You need an original twist or interpretation.
You need a beginning, middle and end. This creates the narrative arc. Beginning needs to draw you in. It needs to have immediacy. He says, don’t use flashbacks ever—and if you do, they need to be brief and blended seamlessly into the text. You need a narrative arc. Are you building toward a climax?
Hooks are very important. First sentence needs to get you to read the first paragraph, which gets you to read the first page, which gets you to read the first chapter.
Internal logic—does your story make sense to an outsider?
Point of View (POV)—Which is right? Once you decide, don’t shift.
Pace—if the scene is not moving the story forward, the pace will be off.
Consider the following for the rest of your career:
1. What makes for a most compelling character? Who are your favorite literary characters and why?
2. What makes for the most compelling storyline/conflicts? What are your favorite and why?
3. How can you reach the broadest possible audience? Don’t over think. Your author’s passion drives you to create good work.
4. Do you even want to reach a broad audience?
5. Are you willing to make the completion of your work the most important thing? You have to be devoted to the work, to the writing. Treat it like it’s important. Your writing will not improve unless your answer is yes.
6. Are you committed to making your work the best it can possibly be? Will you sacrifice your ego for your work? Will you seek and entertain criticism and revisions.
7. Revisit and reread your favorite books and answer questions 1 & 2.