Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mystery Author Bill Cameron Speaks about Character Development September 2nd, PDX



On Tuesday, September 2nd, at the Old Church in downtown Portland, Willamette Writers welcomes local author Bill Cameron who will talk with the membership about his approach to character development.

Bill is the author of the gritty mysteries "County Line" (Tyrus Books, 2011), "Day One" (Tyrus Books, 2010), "Chasing Smoke" (Bleak House Books, 2008) and "Lost Dog" (Midnight Ink, 2007) - featuring irascible Portland homicide cop Skin Kadash. In a starred-review of the 2012 Spotted Owl Award-winning "County Line", Publishers Weekly said, "Contemporary sharp-edged noir doesn't get much better than Cameron's mournful novel featuring ex-cop Skin Kadash." Library Journal called it ... "A perfect fit for Archie Mayor and William Kent Krueger fans."

Bill plans to discuss his approach to character development by sharing anecdotes and specific techniques he uses to dig into characters "who are the most difficult". "Character development", says Cameron, "is not about likeability, or relatability, or sympathy - it's about empathy. As writers we must understand not only a character's traits, interests, needs and desires, but what they value and how they see themselves. We must be capable armchair psychologists, recognizing in our characters not only what they recognize in themselves, but what they're incapable of recognizing in themselves. And we need to do this for all of them, heroes and villains alike. If anything, the characters we find the most loathsome are the ones we must work hardest to understand and to portray fairly."

Bill tweets at twitter.com/bcmystery. He's a member of Friends of Mystery, Sisters-in-Crime, and International Thriller Writers, and serves on the Board of the Mystery Writers of America. For still more information on Bill Cameron, please visit http://bill-cameron.com/.

We hope you'll join us at the Old Church on Tuesday, September 2nd. As always, the doors open at 6:30 and the meeting gets underway promptly at 7:00 pm.

Meeting Information

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bill Johnson Offers Workshop at Write on the Sound

Write on the Sound (WOTS) is a unique, high quality, affordable conference focusing on the craft of writing. Over 30 workshops and panel discussions are presented for all levels and interests, including valuable information regarding today's publishing industry. A limited admission of 275 attendees makes WOTS the perfect place to spark your creativity, share ideas and network with other writers.

Now in its 29th year, WOTS attracts presenters and participants from all over the Northwest, the U.S. and from abroad. Plenty of free time is available to explore the picturesque community of Edmonds, located right on the Puget Sound.

This year's conference highlights are:

* Pre-conference full-day and half-day workshops and sessions
* Over 30 regular conference workshops and panel discussions
* Manuscript critiques
* A writing contest (this year's theme is "Catch")
* An evening with film critic Robert Horton on Friday October 3rd
* Keynote speaker Robert J. Sawyer on Saturday October 4th
* Round table topic discussions during Sunday October 5th lunch hour
* Presentation by illustrator and author Robyn Chance on Sunday October 5th

Willamette Writers members Bill Johnson and Clark Kohanek will be teaching workshops. Bill's workshop is the problems that arise when an author make's a novel's main character an extension of the author's issues in life. Bill will also be doing manuscript critiques as part of the conference.

Registration

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Nye Beach Writers Series Presents... Sandra Stone

Nye Beach Writers Series Presents...

An Evening with: Sandra Stone author of Cocktails with Brueghel at the Museum Café

August 16, 2014 - 7pm at the Newport Visual Arts Center

$6 admission, students free

Sandra Stone is a visual and conceptual artist as well as a poet, playwright and author of literary fiction and nonfiction. She has received many awards, and more than 35 commissions from major architectural firms to create art for both public interiors and the landscape. She describes her work as "creating metaphor for space through architectural concepts, context, and literary text." Her books include Cocktails with Brueghel at the Museum Café; her plays include POof, An Imperfect Place to Dispose of Files; Yes, Out; and What Everything Is.

OPEN MIC The Writers' Series open mic will take place following intermission. Audience members are encouraged to read, sing, or recite original work for up to five minutes. Open mic slots are available to the first 10 writers who sign up. No pre-registration required.

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Four novels and a single-author collection of stories are finalists for the Endeavour Award. The 2014 Award will be the sixteenth year for the Endeavour, which comes with an honorarium of $1,000.00. The winner will be announced November 7, 2014, at OryCon, Oregon's major science fiction convention. The finalists are: "King of Swords" by Dave Duncan (47North), "Meaning of Luff," a collection of stories by Matthew Hughes (Create Space); "Nexus" by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot); "Protector" by C.J. Cherryh (DAW Books); and "Requiem" by Ken Scholes (Tor Books). The Endeavour Award honors a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book, either a novel or a single-author collection, created by a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. All entries are read and scored by seven readers randomly selected from a panel of preliminary readers. The five highest scoring books then go to three judges, who are all professional writers or editors from outside of the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Author's Road Interviews Cara Black



By our very nature, we are storytellers. And most of us have experienced going to someplace new and hearing a story we thought would make a great poem, short story, novel, maybe a movie. Perhaps we’d note it in our journal, re-tell it to a friend, and sometimes go that one more step and draft the story.
Our latest interviewee, bestselling mystery writer, Cara Black, went all the way. It required several years, dozens of classes and critique groups, reams of drafts, but she managed to write a novel about a mystery in her favorite city, Paris, solved by her heroine, Aimée Leduc and Aimée's friends.

Since that first novel Cara has managed each year to add a new, compelling mystery centered in different neighborhoods (arrondissements) inside The City of Light. She’s now published her fourteenth novel in the bestselling series, and she is working on mapping out her future works.

We were thrilled when she agreed to meet with us in her home overlooking San Francisco. And we were even more excited when towards the end of the interview she shared a literary surprise that spans across the series of her novels.

But have no fear, this isn’t a spoiler alert. You have to watch the interview to learn what it is.

George, Salli & Ella

Next Up: Bestselling popular science writer (and lecturer), Mary Roach

Thanks for . . .

. . . joining us . . .

. . . on the road!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Remembering a Story's Details



In the July 2014 issue of Discovery Magazine (Hold That Thought, p 30-33), scientist Elizabeth Phelps, a past president of the Association for Psychological Science and a psychologist at New York University, is interviewed about memory. She speaks in the article that recalling memories shows activation in two parts of the brain. Recalling details about ‘physical locations and layouts’ activates the posterior parahipocampus. When we recall the feelings associated with memories, ‘we see more amygdala involvement.’

In tests, Phelps found that ‘we’re set up to capture time and place.’ That makes it easier to recall such details, an evolutionary advantage.

When I work with struggling authors, I often find a focus on those details and much less a focus on the feelings of characters. I believe the way our brain functions makes it easier for new writers to come up with those details. Such a focus risks becoming tedious, however, reducing a story to a series of descriptions of events. I call this writing style ‘watch the movie and write down the details.’

A bigger problem with this style of writing is that readers often access a story’s characters through the feelings events generate. To leave out those feelings denies readers a prime entry point into a character’s inner life and goals. This is especially true when a main character becomes a kind of automaton, recording visual details.

To help such writers, I have them write out beside each paragraph the feelings of the main character in the scene and how the events of the scene impact and change that character’s feelings. If those feelings don’t change, nothing has happened in the scene to impact the character and, generally, not the reader, either.

The subtle trap here is that those situations and places might evoke feelings in the author, which makes them symbolic to the author and meaningless to the reader, evoking nothing (except perhaps irritation).

All hugely successful stories are journeys of feeling for readers, supported by details of time and place. If you’re telling a story, take care to convey those feelings in a way your readers can share the story journey.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Friday, June 6, 2014

When a Middle Fails a Beginning and End



Maleficent, a new film starring Angelina Jolie, has a wonderful opening and a wonderful close, but the middle seriously sags. Why that happens speaks to a problem with story structure.

The film opens with Jolie as a mythical creature and a young girl who watches over and protects the Moor, where other creatures like pixies roam. Humans occupy a nearby kingdom. Each mostly keep to their realm until a young man enters the Moor to steal a jewel and is caught by Jolie. They become friends, grow up together, and she falls in love with him.

When the nearby king fails in an attack on the Moor, the young man uses Jolie's love for him to take her wings and get himself appointed king. This sets up a central question, will she get revenge? She curses the new king's daughter so that when she reaches 16, she will fall into a deep sleep that can only be woken from a kiss of true love.

In this middle section, Maleficent watches over the girl, whom she clearly and deeply loves. As the girl gets to know Maleficent, she comes to love her like a mother. But this section of the movie mostly keeps the king scheming to destroy Maleficent off-stage, and there's no real drama around seeing Maleficent care for the girl. Beautifully acted by Jolie, yes; the narrative tension necessary to sustain the movie, no.

Narrative tension is generated when a character has a clear goal accessible to a story's audience, and is blocked from achieving that goal. When an audience has internalized a character achieving that, the narrative tension is transferred to the audience. This is what makes a story compelling.

Maleficent has no narrative tension in its middle section, so the drama of the story sags.

Jolie's wonderful performance can't make up for that.

Jolie as an actress had the same problem in the movie Changeling. Great performance, no narrative tension.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

When a Mystery is a Mystery



My starting point for exploring story structure was a class taught by a literary agent at the time, David Morgan, who had studied with Lajos Egri (The Art of Dramatic Writing!). Egri taught that a story has a premise, character+conflict=resolution. But my background in science fiction had shown me that some stories don't have human characters, or characters at all. In science fiction, some characters embody ideas, not human emotions in conflict. And in literary fiction, some stories also have characters who embody ideas (Camus' The Plague, how middle-class people deal with impending death).

I decided a premise would be a dramatic issue, movement, and the movement of that issue to fulfillment.

Later I found it easier for students to think of a story's core dramatic issue as its promise, and that a storyteller could begin a story with the introduction of its promise and moving it toward its fulfillment.

The science fiction film Under the Skin demonstrates how a story can revolve around ideas more than characters. The main character is an alien that takes on the body of a young female. She/it then goes out seducing young men into a liquid that dissolves their bodies into a slurry fed into a mostly hidden chamber. The alien has only a basic understanding of human communication.

When the alien picks up a young man who has a horribly disfigured face, the alien clearly can't tell the difference, but it does come to take pity on the young man, who is not killed and dissolved. This act of mercy separates the alien from its human male-appearing handlers. It goes off with a man it meets at a bus stop. When the man attempts to initiate sex, the alien has no idea how a male penis and female vagina interact. She runs off, is found in some woods by a rapist, who, when he pulls off some of the alien's human covering, comes back with a can of gas and sets the alien on fire. The alien appears to die, or at least the body it's in dies.

The film seems to be a story about how the alien developing feelings of human compassion doom it.

I'm sure others who watched the film could come to other, equally valid conclusions. This is a film where things happen with no explanation.

For this kind of film to work, a film maker needs to have something to say. The director has something to say, but he's not saying it in the traditional, Hollywood style film that typically offers an accessible main character with a clearly defined issue of human need who transports the story's audience to the fulfillment of its promise. Here, the viewer must interpret what happens and what it means.

Under the Skin does, in its own way, explore the ideas it generates, about how an alien might interact with humans, unlike a film like Prometheus that generates ideas (Jesus was an alien) but doesn't explore them.

Under the Skin is beautiful shot, directed, composed, acted, and edited, so it is a pleasure to experience while it unfolds on the screen. People who like challenging films should give this a view.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.